James E. Ford, North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year, wrote this powerful article about his experience in an integrated school as a child and the reality of teaching in a segregated school now.


He begins:


ON THE FIRST DAY of every semester during my five years as a teacher at Garinger High School, I had a candid talk with my students about how the world perceives them. The school, sitting off of Eastway Drive in east Charlotte, is high-poverty, majority-minority, and distinctly urban. I knew, from my own experiences, exactly what “type” of school this was, and I didn’t shy away from telling the kids.


I told them that many people didn’t expect much from their population, because of where they live and what they look like. That they all fit into somebody’s stereotype. I told them that students who go to a school such as Garinger are less likely to graduate than students elsewhere. I told them it was a setup of sorts. Then I waited, reading the responses on their faces. Some pouted, sulking in a sense of internalized low self-worth. Others were visibly angry, as if I had confirmed something they never had the language to articulate.


I should say here that my teaching experience at Garinger was amazing. I enjoyed my students and labored passionately to ensure they received a great education. I even became the North Carolina Teacher of the Year. But I knew what was happening from the first day I arrived on campus.


This school, home of the Wildcats, was a symbol of our local system’s backward trend toward re-segregating along racial and socioeconomic lines—a startling shift for a system that, just a few decades ago, was the district referenced in the landmark Supreme Court case Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, a system that was once regarded as the vanguard of school desegregation.


At the end of that speech on the first day of each semester, I informed the students of the purpose of my presence: That I knew what it was like to be doubted and mistreated. That I was on a mission to make sure they broke out of this destructive system. That I needed their trust before I could teach them. Far more often than not, they gave it to me.


But the truth is, no educator should have to have that conversation with his or her students—ever.


Read his article and ask yourself: Do we care about children of color? Why are we not doing what we know is right for them? Why are we allowing our schools to be desegregated? What kind of society do we want to be?