“School Colors” is an eight-part documentary podcast series about education in Central Brooklyn. It explores what schools in this neighborhood looked like in years and generations past — and why.
“When you go back literally 150 years or go back 50 years, it sounds like you’re talking about 2019,” said Mark Winston Griffith, a local community organizer who was surprised by how many issues bubbling up today have roots in debates and battles of yore.
Griffith, who runs the black-led organizing group Brooklyn Movement Center, co-hosts the podcast alongside journalist and educator Max Freedman. Both men have longstanding connections to Central Brooklyn: Griffith, 56, is the grandson of Jamaican-born immigrants who settled in Crown Heights, and Freedman, 31, is the grandson of a Ukranian Jewish immigrant who made his way to Brownsville.
Chalkbeat will be bringing you new episodes of the podcast here each Friday. “School Colors” is a production of Brooklyn Deep, a local journalism project of the Brooklyn Movement Center. More information can be found here.
Episode 1: Old School
The first episode takes listeners inside two very different District 16 elementary schools along Marcus Garvey Boulevard in Bedford-Stuyvesant and dives deep into the schools that preceded them and the forces that led to this moment. As Freedman explains in the first episode, “District 16 is at a tipping point. And what’s at stake is a lot more than lines on a map. It’s the power to control not only how and what children learn, but what kind of city we’re going to live in and who that city is going to serve.”
Listen to Episode 1: Old School
Episode 2: Power to the People
In the late 1960s, the Central Brooklyn neighborhood of Ocean Hill-Brownsville was at the center of a bold experiment in community control of public schools. But as Black and Puerto Rican parents there tried to exercise power over their schools, they collided headfirst with the teachers’ union — leading to the longest teachers’ strike in American history, 51 years ago this fall. That parent activism would go on to define political life in Central Brooklyn for generations. The second episode of “School Colors” explores this pivotal chapter in Brooklyn history.
Listen to Episode 2: Power to the People
Episode 3: Third Strike
Listen to Episode 3: Third Strike
Episode 4: Agitate! Educate! Organize!
In the wake of the 1968 teachers’ strikes, black residents of Central Brooklyn continued to fight for community control of local schools. The fourth episode of “School Colors” looks at two experiments in self-governance — one within the school system and one in the form of an independent school called Uhuru Sasa Shule — and the legacies of those efforts.
Listen to Episode 4: Agitate! Educate! Organize!
Episode 5: The Disappearing District
The number of students in Brooklyn’s District 16 has dropped by more than half since 2002. There’s no single reason why this is happening, but the year 2002 is a clue: That’s when Michael Bloomberg became Mayor and abolished local school boards — thus putting the school system under mayoral control. In the fifth episode of “School Colors,” listeners hear from parents trying to save their local school from being closed and those who are leaving the district altogether.
Listen to Episode 5: The Disappearing District
Episode 6: Mo’ Charters Mo’ Problems
Charter schools were originally dreamed up to be laboratories for innovation in public education. Instead, many see them as a threat — competing with neighborhood schools for space, resources, and kids. Is this really a zero-sum game? In this episode, the “School Colors” team talks to parents and educators on both sides of the district-charter divide to explore why charter schools seem especially polarizing in a neighborhood like Bedford-Stuyvesant, and what the growth of charter schools means for the future of this community.
Listen to Episode 6: Mo’ Charters Mo’ Problems