Step one: cleanse the skin?
Oak Park and River Forest High School garnered national attention a few years ago for hosting a controversial Black Lives Matter assembly that excluded non-black students.
Now, the school is the focus of a new documentary series on racial inequality in schools called “America To Me.” In the trailer, one person of color says “everything is made for white kids. This school is made for white kids, because this country was made for white kids.”
As The Atlantic suggests, the school should be a success. But what’s happening down the halls and between its walls is another story.
It’s in the liberal village of Oak Park, Illinois, where (as [director Steve James’s] narration reveals) community leaders in the 1950s and ’60s resisted white flight and redlining to keep the area integrated. The white residents who left were mostly older and conservative, James explains, while the white people who moved in were younger and liberal, hopeful that they could play a part in “an American experiment in true diversity.”
So if this school — with its diverse student body and 94 percent graduation rate — isn’t getting things right, the show seems to ask, which school is?
We’ll meet the docuseries director, a recent graduate of Oak Park River and Forest High School, and two education experts to talk about how focusing on one school in one community is strengthening a national conversation about education and equity.
In the meantime, here’s a guide on racial inequality in education across the U.S., from ProPublica.
- Charles Donalson Former student, Oak Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois. He is one of about a half-dozen students featured in the documentary “America to Me.”
- Steve James Director and documentarian. His former projects include 1994’s “Hoop Dreams,” 2014’s “Life Itself,” and 2011’s “The Interrupters.” His latest is a 10-episode documentary series called “America to Me.”
- David Stovall Professor of African American Studies, University of Illinois-Chicago
- Amanda Lewis Director, The Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois Chicago; author, “Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequity Thrives in Good Schools”; @AmandaLewisPhd
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Preet Bharara is the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.