“Skin color doesn’t define your intelligence.”
“I am not what society thinks.”
“Looking forward, not to the past.”
These are just a few of the six-word essays written by high school students in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when asked to describe their perspectives on race and education in America today.
The essays are all the more poignant when paired with photographs by the same students documenting everyday life at two schools on very different sides of the resegregation equation. Sixty years after the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawed official segregation, nearly one in three black students in Tuscaloosa now attends a school more reminiscent of the Jim Crow South.
When my colleague Nikole Hannah-Jones set out to report the story of the dismantling of court orders, closed-room deals and school district decisions that paved the way for resegregation in Tuscaloosa, she knew some of the most important voices would be from students living the consequences of those decisions. So we hatched a plan to enlist them in telling their own stories. As the engagement editor at ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative newsroom, my job is to help build an audience for our work and get the community to participate in our journalism. We wanted the students’ stories to be a vital part of this story from the start.