Headed to Harvard as a 2016 Nieman Fellow!

I’m excited to share that I’ve been chosen as one of the 2016 Nieman Fellows. I’ll spend the 2015-16 academic year in residence at Harvard University, where I’m studying the intersection of public policy and economic inequality.

This is a super-prestigious fellowship and an incredible honor. Sometimes I can’t believe I had the courage to apply.

When I return, I’m going to work on a research/reporting project timed to the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis. April 4, 2018 will be here before you know it – and I want to catalog what economic justice looks like in the city where King’s fight for economic equality was violently interrupted.

Stay tuned, y’all.

#Blacklivesmatter and the economic roots of protest

My latest for The Memphis Flyer, on the roots of protest.

[I]t is a short walk from national protests against police brutality to calls for economic justice.

Rookie activist Tami Sawyer wants to help people in Memphis — the poorest large metro area in the nation — make that journey.

In the past two weeks, the 32-year-old St. Mary’s alumna organized two die-ins — one outside the National Civil Rights Museum and another on Beale Street. These and dozens of similar protests nationwide were sparked by deaths of two unarmed black men — Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island. In both cases, a grand jury failed to indict the white officers who killed them.

But the fury on display at protests and on social media is not directed solely at a warped criminal justice system. It is the entire game that is rigged.

“We can scream, we can yell, we can cry on TV,” Sawyer said, “but it will fall on deaf ears. We don’t have economic power.”

If you want to be thoroughly disgusted by the lack of economic power, check out the Pew Research Center’s latest report on the black-white wealth gap. It’s staggering.


If only chanting #blacklivesmatter made it so



The day after a grand jury failed to indict the white officer who choked an unarmed black man to death for selling loose cigarettes, more than 45 people laid down at the site of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis (now the National Civil Rights Museum), where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in 1968.

Motionless, they chanted. Black lives matter. I can’t breathe. We can’t breathe. I heard one woman, her voice cracking, asking again and again if her sons would live to be 18.

My eyes settled on Liz Phillips and her six-year-old son, Solly. Short for Solomon.

After the die-in, I asked Phillips why she came, as Solly and her other son, Gus, 11, stood by in the cold. Phillips’ eyes watered. She didn’t tell Solly exactly why they were there. She’s not ready for him to know what it means to be a black male in America. I’m not either. Phillips felt it was important to show up, to stand up, important for both Solly and Gus (who is white – in the photo, he’s on the ground to his mother’s right) to know that this is what their family does.

Black lives matter. Solly’s life matters. #blacklivesmatters #ericgarner #icantbreathe

Inequality matters: White students more likely to have experienced teachers

Credit: TutorNerds

Credit: TutorNerds

From The Washington Post: How teacher hiring puts black and Hispanic kids at a disadvantage

[S]chools in Los Angeles often wind up putting children of color in classrooms with teachers who have less skill and experience than those who teach their white classmates.

Teachers often don’t want to teach in schools in impoverished neighborhoods, because the job is so much more exhausting than in schools where the students come from happier homes and are generally better behaved.

This rings true. At White Station High, then the best public high school in Memphis, the best teachers taught in the optional program (majority white). Several retired and went to teach in private schools. Almost all of my teachers in the optional program were white. Few of my classmates in optional were black. At the time, I thought WSHS was a utopia. I now know it was anything but, particularly for those who didn’t have the class/race privilege to work the system.

The article continues:

In a district such as Los Angeles, teachers with seniority might have a contractual right to transfer to a post of their choice. Younger teachers who are just learning the profession end up working with poorer students, who are also often students of color.

“Our schools serving our most disadvantaged students are the places where novice teachers get hired and broken in,” Kane said. “Once they develop some experience, they move to other schools.”


If you support racist systems, guess what? You’re kinda racist.

David Horsey, LA Times

American Dream Game, by David Horsey, LA Times

It’s Time for Whites to Accept Responsibility for Racist Systems | TIME.

Powerful essay from Jim Wallis on Time.com.

To my white brothers and sisters: you can’t continue to say you are not racist when you continue to accept and support systems that are.

Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

One of the things I’ve wondered, as I watch more and more black people leave newsrooms (getting pushed out because of racism, shoved to the side and then fired, being laid offeffectively marginalized or disrespected and then canned) is this: What do white male journalists think?

I single out white men because they run ish overwhelmingly hold the  majority of the key, decision-making roles in most newsrooms. Don’t believe me, check this out.

If I were in, say, a 5K and I took first place only to realize that a good number of runners weren’t allowed to register, my victory would feel hollow. How could I say I was number 1 when the game was rigged?

How does it feel to know that whatever success you have is based, at least in part, on racist systems that mean people of color don’t get to compete with you? Continue reading