Unlocked hosts forum on race in public schools

Nick Privitera

“I was really excited to see so many students and faculty members and community members who are passionate about our public schools,” said Philip Westbrook, moderator of the event.

The forum hosted a five-speaker panel. The speakers included Nikole Hannah-Jones, an award-winning journalist for ProPublica; Nirmala Erevelles, UA professor of educational leadership and foundations of education; Utz McKnight, UA associate professor of political science; Earnestine Tucker, a member of the Tuscaloosa City School Board; and Mary Givens, UA assistant clinical professor of education. Each spoke in-depth on the issue of racial segregation in Tuscaloosa public schools.

“I think, maybe, we pierced that post-racial bubble for [the audience],” Hannah-Jones said. “I think a lot of younger kids, who have seen a black president, kind of believe race isn’t really an issue anymore, and I hope this opened eyes that it is still an ongoing problem.”

The speakers covered several current issues stemming from segregation. Tucker gave an insider’s perspective on the topic as a member of the Tuscaloosa City School Board. She said there is clear segregation in local public schools and offered her own experiences on the board as evidence.

The speakers brought to light several details about the Tuscaloosa school system. Hannah-Jones said Tuscaloosa ranks in the top 10 of most resegregated school districts in America. Additionally, both Hannah-Jones and Tucker said school board officials made deals to gerrymander the districts, effectively dividing the schools by race.

After the speakers finished their panel, students were given the chance to ask questions pertaining to the discussion.

“It was great,” said Matthew Lisanby, a freshman student who attended the forum. “I’ve seen [segregation] first hand. I didn’t realize how widespread it actually is though.”