Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses 1619 Project and education around racial justice

Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses education, 1619 Project, at SU conversation

Hannah-Jones visits Syracuse University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion for a conversation on the true contribution of Black Americans.
Published: November 1, 2022
Nikole Hannah-Jones sits across from Jessica Elliot in front of an audience.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, right, visited SU for a discussion with Jessica Elliot, a doctoral student in the Maxwell School.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, an award-winning journalist and creator of The 1619 Project, joined Jessica Elliot, a doctoral student at the Maxwell School, in conversation this past Friday at Shaffer Auditorium. In a series of questions and answers, Hannah-Jones explored her work as a journalist, and educator and discussed more about The 1619 Project.

To begin, Elliot asked how teacher preparation programs can better prepare their practitioners for leading a classroom following the current times as we begin this process of having more open conversations about the origins of the United States.

Prefacing her response with the acknowledgment that she is not a teaching expert, Hannah-Jones said that you cannot teach what you do not know yourself, and many incoming educators aren’t shown how to teach this curriculum. In addition, she says that we need to stop treating history as segregated and that the history of Black people cannot be taught as separate from the history of America.

“The way it is commonly taught is that we have slavery because we have to discuss the civil war, we might mention reconstruction but it is very brief, and then black people basically disappear until Martin Luther King has a dream,” Hannah-Jones said.

The proper history is not taught unless someone specializes in learning it, and when learning the segregated history of our country, students are learning about a country that never existed, which according to Hannah-Jones is a problem.

Elliot then delved into Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the reasons behind why there is so much misinformation spread about it, asking “Would it be fair to say that those who oppose CRT do not understand it or do not engage with it?” Hannah-Jones responds that the people who have been against CRT have used it as a tool to polarize the country and delegitimize public education.

She says that CRT is, in actuality, about the structures of racism, which changes the narrative, because many prefer to pretend that the only racism that exists is when individuals are racist to others.

“All of this really is to scapegoat marginalized people for political gain,” Hannah-Jones said in reference to the conservative opposition of CRT.

Elliot followed up with a question about how to utilize powers to organize education and fight back. She attempted to correct herself with a more passive term for fight back, but Hannah-Jones used this as an opportunity to explain that we should be fighting back and that the rage that comes from these injustices is justifiable. She explains that people of color are expected to act civilly when treated uncivilly and that people of color can channel their rage into a positive way of promoting change.

Turning to a local perspective, Elliot asked how the story of Syracuse resets the narrative about school segregation. Hannah-Jones explains that most northern cities never desegregated because most often black children go to school in the cities and white children go to school in all-white suburbs.

“People who have a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard won’t send their kids to a Black school,” she said, in the conclusion of her answer to the question on school segregation.

During the section when Elliot asked questions that were submitted by the audience, Hannah-Jones was asked a question about advice for her younger college self as a black woman in media and journalism.

Being impressed by the question, she asked the crowd who submitted it. Adia Santos, the student body Vice President, raised her hand and spoke about who she is and what her plans are for the near future, as she is graduating this year.

After hearing this, Hannah-Jones offered to bring Santos to Howard University on November 15th for a Democracy Summit, during which journalists from around the country discuss threats to democracy and ideas to protect it. She answered the question by saying that she wished she would have understood how to navigate her own education at a predominantly white institution, by understanding that she was there to get her degree and move on.

Following the event, students and staff shared the sentiment that Hannah-Jones’ conversation validated their experiences as people of color at a predominantly white institution. They also discussed their reasons for attending the event and their thoughts afterward.

Bobby Battle, a freshman in the School of Education, said that she came to the talk because she aspires to have a career in education and eventually open a school. When she does open her school, she wants to “keep The 1619 Project in mind in her school’s policy.”

Rockell Burton Brown, dean of inclusivity, diversity, equity, and accessibility for the Newhouse School, was excited to hear Hannah-Jones speak. She was proud to say that the Newhouse school was one of the sponsors of this event, and she was excited to hear about another Black woman’s journey navigating the journalism world.

“It was refreshing to see that [Hannah-Jones] was a real person with real experiences behind the genius,” SU freshman Jacquelyn Trotman said. “ I was inspired by her because she is someone who looks like me who is at the center of such an important conversation at our school, and on the national level.”