“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.”
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.
Episode 3: Third Strike
In the fall of 1968, New York City teachers went on strike three times, in reaction to an experiment in community control of schools in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn. The third strike was the longest — and the ugliest. The confrontation at Ocean Hill-Brownsville fractured the connection between teachers and families, between the labor movement and the civil rights movement, and between Black and Jewish New Yorkers. As the third episode explores, some of those wounds have never quite healed.
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.
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.
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.
Episode 7: New Kids on the Block
Even as the population of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, has been growing in numbers and wealth, the schools of District 16 have been starved for students and resources. That’s because a lot of people moving into the neighborhood either don’t have children or send them to schools outside the district. The seventh episode of the “School Colors” podcast looks at the forces of gentrification in the neighborhood and the effects on local public schools.
Episode 8: On the Move
The eighth episode of the “School Colors” explores the battle for school integration, which is back on the table for the first time in decades. But what’s the right approach — and what would desegregation mean for Central Brooklyn? This episode looks to the future.
Bonus Episode: A Night at the Library
In this bonus episode, recorded live at the Brooklyn Public Library, “School Colors” producers Mark Winston Griffith and Max Freedman talk with Chalkbeat New York’s own Christina Veiga. They are joined by a special guest, NeQuan McLean, president of the Community Education Council for District 16. Their conversation digs deeper into some of the themes of the podcast and pulls back the curtain on how the show was created — and what’s coming next.