It’s Time for a New Movement Toward Integration in St. Louis


Read KWMU’s full feature on segregation and City Garden.

This morning, City Garden was featured on our local NPR station, 90.7 KWMU, in a story about school segregation.

We hope you will listen to the story at this link!

I am extremely proud that our school is being featured in this way and grateful to the parents who were interviewed.

Perhaps what is more important, however, is that this piece highlights the issue of school segregation in St. Louis. Segregation is a critical component of what continues to drive inequity in our region—and it is amazingly absent from our regional public discourse.

I want to offer a bit more context about why this issue is so important.

In St. Louis, our schools are just about as segregated as they were in 1954 when Brown versus Board of Education—the Supreme Court case that mandated that separate is inherently unequal and that schools must desegregate—became law.

This is not okay.

Thurgood Marshall and civil rights champions pressed for the desegregation of schools in the U.S. for critically important reasons. The case featured social science testimony that segregation had a harmful effect on the psychology of African American children. The court concluded that:

To separate them [children in grade and high schools] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone.

This reality seems to have been forgotten by policy makers, funders, and the media. As a fellow school leader from New York City recently said, in education, we are pressed to keep trying to make things as “equally separate” as possible.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. participated in many acts of civil disobedience and made many statements about the evils of segregation. One powerful statement comes from King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”:

I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”… — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. 

In the US, and in St. Louis, geographic income segregation is growing primarily among families with children (Architecture of Segregation, Jargowsky, 2015). And, economic segregation continues to go hand in hand with racial segregation. As the Ferguson Commission’s report stated, St. Louis is the 5th most segregated of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The events in Ferguson in 2014 and the continuous city-wide organizing after the Stockley verdict are exposing just how detrimental segregation is and has been for our region. Our region’s segregation is literally killing us.

The desegregation efforts that occurred in our region throughout the 1980’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s were far from perfect—bussing African American children from the city into all-white county schools caused additional emotional and psychological damage. I am not arguing that we should return to this as the panacea.

The parents who founded City Garden’s charter school were striving to create a different model for desegregation—merging the idea of integrated neighborhoods and schools, therefore creating what we hoped would be a true community school that brings together people of different backgrounds who live near one another—but who most likely were not engaging in each others’ lives in meaningful ways, and who had unequal access to high quality education.  

Creating this ecosystem has been extremely challenging. We recognize that it is far from perfect and that the diversity of our neighborhoods and our school is fragile.

But we do strive to offer a glimpse of what is possible when people come together, determined to interrupt deeply-rooted historic inequities. City Garden exists to show that we can have integrated neighborhoods and schools, where all children get access to an excellent education. We can live in community together, work together, and play together. We must work to identify and interrupt racism together, while raising our children together in environments that normalize meaningful relationships across differences and that deeply support our children’s unique contributions to the world.

Integrated schools result in higher test scores and better grades for all children, reduced exposure to the criminal justice system, 130% higher incomes as adults, improved college attendance and completion, lower teen pregnancy rates, reduced obesity and diabetes rates, improved mental health, reduced exposure to lead, and reduced exposure to violence and toxic stress (school-diversity.org).

Integrated schools improve critical thinking skills (learning to see and anticipate others’ points of views), resulting in more “cross-racial” friendships and reduced “racial anxiety.” Children who attend integrated schools are also more likely to choose integrated neighborhoods as adults, which ultimately helps to decrease inequities in our society (school-diversity.org).

We at City Garden believe that it is time to deeply analyze why our neighborhoods and schools are still as segregated as they are, to recognize that segregation in St. Louis has extreme detrimental impacts for all of us, and to commit to holistic changes that result in true equity for all children and families.

Thank you for your partnership in this work.

With gratitude,

Christie