Lighting a fire

11/19/2020, 6 p.m.
Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones lit a fire Tuesday when she spoke to an online group of 120-plus local people about school ...

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones lit a fire Tuesday when she spoke to an online group of 120-plus local people about school re-segregation and equity in education.

Her virtual talk was sponsored by Leadership Metro Richmond and the Robins Foundation as part of the series, “Equity: From Concept to Action.”

Ms. Jones is the Pulitzer Prize-winning leader of the seminal The 1619 Project, published last year by the New York Times in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia and English North America. The project covered the many aspects and issues of contemporary life that can be traced to slavery and its aftermath.

In her talk Tuesday, Ms. Jones hit on many of the manifestations of inequity experienced in public school systems around the nation, including in Richmond, such as rezoning and talented and gifted programs. Both, she said, are used largely by school systems under pressure from white parents in order to segregate students along racial and socioeconomic lines the parents feel more comfortable with their children being around.

Similarly, talented and gifted programs are used to create schools within schools to benefit white students. She said her research of school systems across the coun- try reveals that the greater the Black student population, the greater the number of white students are put into talented and gifted classes.

“In largely black school districts,” she said, “more than 30 to 70 percent of white kids are deemed talented and gifted. How can that be?”

The message that sends to Black students in the school is clear, she said, and detrimental. No wonder Black children say that someone who is a good student is “acting white,” she said.

She encouraged people to try to determine what un- derlying, and often unspoken, fears are keeping public schools from being a true collective and viewing all stu- dents as equal and deserving of a quality education.

“If you believe in public schools, then you can’t screen out the public ... and the kids you believe are troublesome,” Ms. Jones said.

She asked rhetorically what parents in a public school system are willing to take from others in order to make sure their children have more. “Whose kid should be sacrificed so that someone else should have a quality education?” she said.

A clear-eyed examination of our public school systems in Richmond and the Metro Area should help us determine the needed adjustments in policies and practices to provide a quality education for all students, particularly with the impact of COVID-19.

The question for the leaders who participated: What are you going to do now with the information and knowledge you have? How will you work to make sure public education in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield is more equitable?