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A Segregated Education, K-12

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Jakeeda Bester prepares for her high school graduation. She was in third grade when she realized her classmates were all black.

Jakeeda Bester prepares for her high school graduation. She was in third grade when she realized her classmates were all black.

WBEZ/Bill Healy

There’s no legal school segregation in this country. But in Chicago and the suburbs, a quarter of a million black and Latino children still face extreme racial isolation every day in class.  They go to schools where more than 90 percent of students come from their same race. 
WBEZ has found that in the last 20 years, the number of extremely segregated black and Latino schools has gone up in our region. For our ongoing series Race: Out Loud, we talked with seniors who just graduated from some of these schools.
DERRELL: Most of the schools I’ve been through, throughout my life, are segregated.

COLLAGE of VOICES: An all-black school, all-black elementary and high school, all black. None of it was mixed. All black. It was all black. Totally black, just totally black. Grammar school all the way up to high school. A thousand, two thousand students: All of them were Latin.

GENESIS: I haven’t really been really close to someone or had like a full conversation with someone who’s not Hispanic.
The seniors in this story went to five different high schools. Some have gone their entire education—kindergarten through 12th grade— without ever having a classmate from another race.
Did you ever wonder when kids start to notice they’re in a situation like that?
JAKEEDA: Oh, that was probably when I was like very young—like grammar school, probably about third grade—when I noticed that I’m in an all-black school. There’s no other races.
DONAVAN: Fourth or fifth grade. They was talking about Martin Luther King. And some—I think his name was…it was Marquis something—he asked the teacher, ‘Is we black?’ And the teacher, she was like, ‘Yeah.  All of y’all some black young kids.’ And from there I was like, OK. We’re black.
GENESIS: Well, I don’t think I realized that ‘till maybe last year. ‘Cause I was just so used to it. And then last year, when I was finally looking at the future and what college I was going to attend and I was attending open houses, I was like wow. I’ve been in high school with all Mexicans, and I’m gonna go to college and it’s not all Mexicans. And that’s when I realized how comfortable I was here and how different it’s going to be in college.
JAKEEDA:  In school, I got to the age where they began to talk about race and black history and slavery, so I still thought it was, like, segregated.
Yeah, she thought Chicago schools were still legally segregated. That was around 2003.
When researchers measure school segregation across the country, Chicago tops the charts.
Forty percent of Latino kids in Chicago go to school in what sociologists consider “extreme segregation.” Seventy percent of African American kids do.
JANELLE: I just feel like we was just closed in, we were just all kept together.
PATRICE: You’re not going to hear anything positive about us, just because we’re all black.
Many of the students we talked to—though not all—go to struggling schools.  But even students in the same school have different views about their segregated education and what it’s meant for them as students, and as people.
LORENA: The experience isn’t bad, necessarily. It’s more like home.
GENESIS: You could just catch somebody in the hallway and say some phrase in Spanish and they’ll understand what you’re talking about. I guess we feel kind of like a family.
JESSENIA: It was really bad, like horrible, like beyond believable. The rooms were all run down and my parents were a little bit concerned because they didn’t  have the same materials as other schools. But as the years moved along our school started to move up, little by little—with just all Hispanics.

A sea of Latino students exit their elementary school in Brighton Park. (WBEZ/Bill Healy)

DERRELL: Black history, that’s a very big deal in black schools. I’ve won first place in a black history bee contest in my school, and my teachers—they take that very seriously, and so do the students.
GENESIS: I don’t think it depends on the school or the people you’re around. I think it just depends on yourself and how hard you’re trying.
KARL: I think it’s horrible, in one word. Kids never really get to know what life is. We’ve got to worry about getting shot. That’s life for us.
DERRELL: It was this one time, I was at a track meet. And we had to drop Walter Payton students off because their bus hadn’t come. And when we pulled in front of their school, it was flat screens, the school was clean, and everything just looked so perfect there, and I thought to myself, ‘This is somewhere I should be. This is where I want to go.’ What I saw in their school, we had nothing even close to what they had. And it was just something that I just had to accept.
KARL: To be honest, you kind of build a dislike for whites.
Students’ experiences with kids of other races have been accidental, and fleeting: a brief move to another state or a year in parochial school, a field trip to a white school. One girl told me that when Hurricane Katrina hit, a handful of white students arrived at her school. They were gone within a week.
TEONDRA: I wanted to go to a school that was mixed.
PATRICE: They’re more advanced than us. Like the stuff that all mixed schools read, I ain’t read yet. And then, they’re not just writing five paragrphs.  They’ve got to write three pages. In two days!
PATRICE: I have to go to certain schools in my area if I don’t pass this test. We’re not good enough for your mixed school. That hurts.
RAFA: It would certainly change and expand the minds of the students coming in. Definitely more culture enriched, more language enriched. Just, more well rounded. And it’s not a bad thing that it’s not—the education is great here. But, if we could have had more ethnic diversity, it would have been a better experience.
LORENA: I would be completely different because I would see different types of views, how everybody thinks. So it kind of changes my view and the way I am, and how everybody gets along.
BOY: It might turn the school completely around.
PATRICE: We’re in the middle of, you can say, the ghetto.
RAFA: The streets here are filled with Hispanics, so who’s gonna come to the school? Hispanics, Latins.
LORENA: It really can’t change. Well, it can—if we wanted it to—but it’s really difficult because we’re so used to living segregated.
All these students are about to step out into a much larger world. They know that. Tomorrow I’ll bring you their thoughts about how prepared they feel for what’s next. That's in part two of this story.

Graduates of Manley High School pose for a photo outside of their graduation. (WBEZ/Bill Healy)

A Segregated Education, K-12, Part 2

Segregation in schools is not a new issue in the Chicago area. But a WBEZ analysis shows things are getting worse, not better. In the last 20 years, the number of extremely segregated black and Latino schools in our metro region has gone up. A quarter of a million black and Latino kids now attend extremely racially isolated schools in the city and suburbs. For our ongoing series RACE: Out Loud, WBEZ’s Linda Lutton talked with  high school seniors who’ve gone through their entire public education in segregated schools.This is part 2 of our story.

With few exceptions the kids in this story have gone from Kindergarten to 12th grade in some of our region’s most racially isolated schools.

COLLAGE of VOICES: An all-black school, all-black elementary and high school, all black. None of it was mixed. All black. It was all black. Totally black, just totally black. Grammar school all the way up to high school. A thousand, two thousand students: All of them were Latin. It was just all Latinos..They have all sorts of different views and feelings and reflections on their experience.

PATRICE: You get to experience a lot, but you don’t get other cultures. And that’s the part I didn’t like, but I like being around my own culture. JANELLE: Everybody’s going their separate ways regardless afterwards anyways, so to me it’s not a big deal. But at the same time it is. 

DERRELL: The books I’ve seen there are so old, it’s ridiculous. I mean, books older than I am. Books so old , older than I am.PATRICE: You gonna send me to an all-black school ‘cause you think I’m not gonna make it in yours?

JAKEEDA: I wish I had diversity. I notice that all the time.KARL: Probably would play different sports like badminton or lacrosse or some sport like that, but…

ITZAYANA: Getting your better education is really up to you, it doesn’t matter who should be around you.LORENA: There’s still that part where you feel like your own ethnic group is like home.

DERRELL: You can get an education anywhere, but you can’t get a quality education anywhere.It was just a coincidence, but I did some of my interviews on the 58th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that declared separate schools are inherently unequal. Lots of students I talked with did not have a good sense of how to fit their experience into this country’s history with race and schools…

MILTON: School de-escal…desegregation? No.JESSENIA: No, I have not heard of school desegregation.

GENESIS: School desegregation. Would it mean like… Cause I don’t really feel like we’re segregated, cause we’re all one race--so I believe segregation would be like, these people here, and these people over here.ITZAYANA: I think segregation back then was really a strong word to use. To me it’s just…separate.

GENESIS: Because it’s not intentionally segregated. It just happens to be in this neighborhood.JANAE: I’m kinda glad I wasn’t born back then, when there was a lot of racism going on, because a lot of blacks was mistreated, and couldn’t get a proper education. And I didn’t think that was fair, that you couldn’t go to a certain school because of the color of your skin.

Archival newscast footage from 1957, outside central high school, Little Rock, Arkansas: Five Negro boys and three Negro girls walking toward the side door of the school…We just got a report here on this end that the students are in! (crowd sound)JANAE: My experience and their experience, I never thought about making any connection between them. I don’t know why, I just never thought about it.

JANELLE: I don’t feel they should force anybody to come together, because I think that would be an ugly situation.DENNIS: Schools shouldn’t be separated though. God made every man, every woman equal. So I don’t feel like because of the color of our skin we should be at different schools, cause we’re all equal.

JAKEEDA: It does matter, it does matter. It does matter to be desegregated. Because if a student plans on being successful, then they’re going to have to deal with diversity and being around other races.  I don’t think there’s a job with all black people or all white people.I asked the students what they thought of all these questions I was asking them about race and their schools.

GENESIS: I actually hadn’t really thought about this before. I didn’t think it was relevant. I didn’t think it was worthy of an interview, honestly. No offense to you! I just thought it was normal that I went to elementary school with all Mexicans and then went to high school with all Mexicans. I didn’t know it would interest anyone.KARL: I think—I mean, you can ask what you want to ask, but I think they won’t change anything.

The kids I’ve been talking to are all graduating, they’re all going to college. But that’s not necessarily the norm. Extreme segregation often correlates to low achievement. People disagree about whether we should promote integration as a way to improve schools—that strategy is not popular right now— or whether we should shoot for quality schools without worrying about race.

Wherever the students fall on that question, they believe their segregated school experience has shaped who they are, where they’re headed next, and what obstacles they might face.JAKEEDA: I think that when I go to college I am going to be a bit culturally shocked. I think it’s only 2 percent African American. When I was in an interview at Coe College, they had said that there would be white students from small white towns that never even seen black people. And I don’t know how I could deal with that, like I don’t know if they would be racist, or if they would be like discriminating against me. I just don’t know.

GENESIS:  I guess it’s a little bit scary, because you don’t really know if they see you a certain way. Because I feel like usually Hispanics are seen as inferior.DONAVAN: It’s a college that is mixed. I’m trying to, I want to hang out with different races, see what’s going on in their lives. See what they went through, and try to put it with what I went through. My brother had a white friend, and he didn’t like different races, but by him playing basketball with my brother, him and my brother got real cool, and they’re friends now to this day. So, I’m trying to find a friend like that.

KARL: I’m open minded to it, because as a kid, you always wondered what it’d be like, so. I’m enrolled in the school of DuPage College. The student body, it has a lot of different ethnic groups.REPORTER: Is that something you look forward to?

KARL: It’s not something I look forward to, to be honest. It’s not something I plan on even liking. I would rather have—how should I say? I would rather have my people around me. I would feel a lot more comfortable if people who understood me were around me.JANEA: I’m going to Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach. It’s a historically black college, so.

There are two futures at stake for Janae Harbin.JANAE: I have a baby boy. He’s gonna be 10 months on the 19th. And his name is Jaquon. I want him to grow up in a nice environment. I don’t want him to grow up in Englewood, so that’s why I’m going away, ‘cause I want him to grow up in a nice environment. And I just want him to have a fun childhood. I would picture him to be in school with a mixed race—not just all black. 

Kindergarten teacher singing: “I like the way Mario is sitting, Anaya, Mykala, Jeremiah, and Tremain, too. The school year ended recently for another public school class in Chicago. Near Janae’s home in Englewood, these kindergartners just finished their first year of segregated schooling.

Students interviewed for this story graduated from Harper High School, Juarez High School, Manley Career Academy and UNO Charter School—all in Chicago; and from Morton East High School in Cicero.

They included: Karl Barney, Jakeeda Bester, Shacquille Brown Ridge, Patrice Chatman, Rafael Gomez, Janea Harbin, Lorena Jauregui, Derrell Jones, Dennis Mapp, Jessenia Martinez, Donavan Miller, Itzayana Navarrete, Janelle Parks, Milton Sandifer, Antonio Shanklin, Teondra Stuckie, and Genesis Villalobos.

LaCreshia Birts contributed to this story.

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