Publication Date: March 24, 2023
In cities across the United States, affluent White newcomers are moving into historically Black neighborhoods, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for public schools. In many cases, the newcomers either avoid their local schools or use their political power to push aside families who have lived in the neighborhood for years. But there’s a third possibility, one that can bring greater equity, and that’s the story of this book.
At Brighter Choice Community School, a public elementary school in Brooklyn’s rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, a group of mostly Black parents, led by PTA president Keesha Wright-Sheppard, is learning to share the space with White newcomers. Outside the school, high rates of homelessness and a global pandemic that disproportionately hit people of color make it hard for children to succeed. Inside the school, hurt feelings and misunderstandings push parents apart. But the parents, working through conflicts to build a community of mutual trust and respect, are planting the seeds of interracial solidarity to fight for better schools for all. Whether these seeds flourish and grow depends on whether parents of all races, knowing the history of injustice and inequality, can learn to come together to overcome the past.
Clara Hemphill, founding editor of InsideSchools.org, is a lifelong journalist who has built a career helping New York City parents navigate a complex system of school choice. She is the author of New York City's Best Public Pre-K and Elementary Schools, New York City’s Best Public Middle Schools, and New York City's Best Public High Schools.
“A Brighter Choice masterfully chronicles one woman’s struggle to maintain a school’s mission as a bastion of hope for Black families in the face of gentrification. The story shines new light on the process of neighborhood change and provides hope that we can manage gentrification in a way that benefits us all.”
—Lance Freeman, Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor of City and Regional Planning, and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania
“For many years, Clara Hemphill has been one of the most astute observers of New York City’s public school system. A Brighter Choice, which is incisively reported and beautifully written, explores the efforts of a Black-majority school in Brooklyn to provide a first-rate education for all its students amid the changes of gentrification and the crisis of COVID. With an emphasis on the crucial role played by parents, Hemphill reverses the usual top-down focus on New York City’s schools, dispels much conventional wisdom, and sympathetically shows that it is possible to reconcile Black empowerment with racial and economic integration in public education. A Brighter Choice provides a new way to think about the promise and challenges of public schools today.”
—Peter Eisenstadt, author, Rochdale Village: Robert Moses, 6,000 Families, and New York City's Great Experiment in Integrated Housing and editor, The Encyclopedia of New York State
“‘Clara Hemphill’s fascinating, stirring book, A Brighter Choice, suggests skilled and empathetic parents can help to create truly integrated schools that provide our best hope for restoring social cohesion and social mobility in America.”
—Richard D. Kahlenberg, New York City School Diversity Advisory Group executive committee member, former senior fellow, The Century Foundation
1. A Proudly Black School in a Gentrifying Neighborhood 5
2. The Roots of Inequality and the Struggle for Just Schools 13
3. The Deep Decline and Uneven Revival of the City’s Schools 26
4. The Promise and Pitfalls of School Choice 42
5. How Gentrification Brought Conflict 59
6. Bringing the Community Together 75
7. Problems Outside the School’s Control 86
8. COVID-19 Tests the Community 101
9. ÒTrust Is the GlueÓ 115
10. The Work Still to Be Done 129
Data Sources 157
A Word About Names 159
About the Author 168
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