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School Segregation—Not a Thing of the Past

1954 news: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka—The Supreme Court unanimously strikes down school segregation, declaring that separate but equal schools are unconstitutional.

2018 news: "School Segregation in America is as Bad Today as it Was in the 1960s" (Newsweek)

"Many people think of segregation as happening in the past, but it's still happening. We wanted to show present-day issues that relate to segregation of schools, to educate the community, because it's an issue that needs to be resolved," says Pingry visual arts teacher Jennifer Mack-Watkins, who believes passionately that everyone should have access to quality education. As just one example of numerous cases against segregation in the past five years, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit this past May against the state of New Jersey, calling for statewide desegregation of its public and charter schools.

Co-Curators Larry Ossei-Mensah and Katie Fuller.

Mrs. Mack-Watkins helped curate a recent mixed-media exhibit in the Hostetter Arts Center Gallery, part of an ongoing, traveling exhibition titled Race and Revolution: Still Separate – Still Unequal that explores school segregation in the United States since Brown v. Board of Education. It examines "historical patterns of systemic racism in order to challenge how this country has dealt with—or not dealt with—its legacy of race-based trauma," says co-curator Katie Fuller. "The exhibitions are my way of addressing the psychology of trauma and all of the fear, shame, and denial that go along with it. Until we truly come to terms with this country's need to cling to white supremacy, we will not be able to move forward."

Visual Arts Department Chair Miles Boyd considers the exhibit a "contemporary conversation" that took students beyond their history books. "For many students, the notion of the Civil Rights Movement is an abstract idea. They assume those concerns were dealt with and resolved, but this exhibit was a chance to re-examine the world we live in and ask ourselves, 'Is our work done yet?' Clearly not."

Familiar with Race and Revolution from social media, Mrs. Mack-Watkins contacted Ms. Fuller and co-curator Larry Ossei-Mensah to inquire about bringing it to Pingry, prior to the next stop at Pennsylvania State University. According to the exhibit's website, "The exhibitions generated by Race and Revolution aim to bring the conversation of race and racism from the past into the present by displaying excerpts from historical documents with contemporary artworks . . . The interpretive nature of art allows a viewer to respond in a personal way, while the language of historical documents speaks to the facts."

While the main exhibit features 18 artists, Pingry showcased seven of them: Damien Davis, L. Kasimu Harris, jc lenochan, Carina Maye, Shervone Neckles, Iviva Olenick, and Nicole Soto-Rodríguez. "As the show travels to different locations, each venue selects what art pieces should be displayed," Ms. Fuller says. "A couple of factors go into making these selections: the size of the venue and what pieces work best for the anticipated audience. Pingry selected seven artists from the original 18 based on these factors."

Activities in conjunction with the exhibit included classroom visits to the gallery (coordinated by Mrs. Mack-Watkins) and an Upper School student reading her own vivid, thought-provoking poem during Hostetter on the Five (a recurring event that Mrs. Mack-Watkins initiated during the 2016-17 school year to feature five minutes of student artwork inspired by Pingry exhibitions).

Among the gallery visits was Audrey Enriquez's eighth-grade English class, as the students compared and contrasted what they learned about racial tensions and segregation from Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Georgia Douglas Johnson with messages in the works by the visiting artists. "We realized," Ms. Enriquez says, "that the fight to promote black people, culture, and art as brilliant, bold, and beautiful is still going on today."

Student reflections from Ms. Enriquez's class

"We believe the title 'Race & Revolution: Still Separate - Still Unequal' is still true somewhat today. Even though in our school it is untrue and all people are treated equally, many schools, especially in this area, still receive the unfair treatment. Artists are still fighting for equality and spreading the concern of discrimination, just like the artists in the Harlem Renaissance; but, unlike the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, the artists of the modern day have more tools, such as a camera . . ."
—Kyra Li, Sydney Langer, and Thomas Weldon

"The title 'Race & Revolution: Still Separate - Still Unequal' is still true because in some places around America, African Americans are still not treated fairly. As a result of this, they are still fighting for the acceptance of black culture and appreciation of black art because black art is just as good as white art. So, these artists stood for change and making people aware of what's happening to black people."
—Amanda Pfundstein and Zala Bhan


Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer