In the spring of 2014, when our daughter, Najya, was turning 4, my husband and I found ourselves facing our toughest decision since becoming parents. We live in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a low-income, heavily black, rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of brownstones in central Brooklyn. The nearby public schools are named after people intended to evoke black uplift, like Marcus Garvey, a prominent black nationalist in the 1920s, and Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, but the schools are a disturbing reflection of New York City’s stark racial and socioeconomic divisions. In one of the most diverse cities in the world, the children who attend these schools learn in classrooms where all of their classmates — and I mean, in most cases, every single one — are black and Latino, and nearly every student is poor. Not surprisingly, the test scores of most of Bed-Stuy’s schools reflect the marginalization of their students.
I didn’t know any of our middle-class neighbors, black or white, who sent their children to one of these schools. They had managed to secure seats in the more diverse and economically advantaged magnet schools or gifted-and-talented programs outside our area, or opted to pay hefty tuition to progressive but largely white private institutions. I knew this because from the moment we arrived in New York with our 1-year-old, we had many conversations about where we would, should and definitely should not send our daughter to school when the time came.
My husband, Faraji, and I wanted to send our daughter to public school. Faraji, the oldest child in a military family, went to public schools that served Army bases both in America and abroad. As a result, he had a highly unusual experience for a black American child: He never attended a segregated public school a day of his life. He can now walk into any room and instantly start a conversation with the people there, whether they are young mothers gathered at a housing-project tenants’ meeting or executives eating from small plates at a ritzy cocktail reception.
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