Howard University Law School is often called the launching pad for Brown v Board. Thurgood Marshall taught there, Charles Hamilton Houston, who was, in many ways, the architect of the multi-year legal strategy that led to BvB, was a dean. Yet here, in 2019, the work that Howard launched is still incomplete. By many measures, our schools are as segregated, if not more, than they were before the unanimous Brown v Board decision. The historical and ongoing segregation is core to educational and racial injustice, and constitutes a breach that our guest, Professor Justin Hansford, argues is in need of repair – a human rights violation that require reparations.
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Houston Institue Panel on the 65th Anniversary of Brown v Board
Professor Hansford’s Op-Ed for the ACLU
Callie House – One of the leaders of the first organization to call for reparations in the late 1800s.
Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Case for Reparations
Ibram X. Kendi – How To Be An Anti-Racist
Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow
EdBuild’s Report on the $23 billon funding gap
An example of reparations being paid in the US, from the Washington Post
The Integrated Schools Podcast is produced by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.
Audio editing and mixing by Andrew Lefkowits.
Music by Kevin Casey.
Andrew: Welcome to the integrated schools podcast. I'm Andrew, a White, dad from Denver, and I'm back.
As many of you probably already know, my cohost friend and the founder of Integrated Schools, Courtney, was killed in a traffic accident on December 30th. Needless to say, it's been a tough few weeks, but over MLK weekend, a number of us from the integrated schools community, parent board members, chapter leaders, gathered in Los Angeles for her memorial.
It was a beautiful tribute to her life. We heard from her friends, from her husband, her brother, her mother, and even her son, and they all spoke of her passion, her wit, and of her commitment to Integrated Schools. While the wounds still feel raw, we left more committed than ever to continuing this work. And a big part of this work was this podcast. So I'm back terrified, heartbroken, but ready to move forward.
Fortunately, the decision on how exactly to move forward in the short term isn't something I have to make on my own. Because, while Courtney and I rarely planned as far ahead as we would have liked, we had not only planned another few episodes, but we'd actually recorded two interviews that we have yet to release.
So, while it's been hard to work on this episode and, and hard to keep hearing her voice, it felt wrong to keep some of her words - some of her wisdom, from seeing the light of day. So, for this episode and the next, you'll hear interviews that she and I did together. I won't have her for the witty banter before and after the interviews, but I'll do my best to share some of what we grappled with after each interview.
For today, we go back to actually last May, on the 65th anniversary of Brown V Board. We were working on our Brown v. Board anniversary series when we came across a panel discussion at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. If you don't know, this Institute was started in 2005 and it honors and continues the unfinished work of Charles Hamilton Houston, a legal scholar, a litigator, and the Vice Dean of Howard Law School from 1929 to 1935. Houston really was sort of the engineer of the multi-year legal strategy that led to the Brown v. Board decision and the Institute continues to serve as a bridge between scholarship, law, policy, and practice.
So, when they brought a panel of experts together to talk about school segregation 65 years after Brown, we tuned in. That was when we heard this.
Justin Hansford: So my argument, actually, is for us to reorient ourselves from a constitutional litigation approach to an approach, which is very controversial, but also I believe the right one, which is a reparations approach. We know that in recent..., you can snap if you want to, you can snap to that.
Andrew: A push toward desegregation through a reparations lens was something neither of us had actually come across and we were intrigued. So Courtney reached out and Professor Justin Hansford agreed to come on the show and well, here's our conversation.
Justin Hansford: My name is Justin Hansford. I am the Executive Director and founder of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University. We focus on using law and scholarship and organizing to use human rights and constitutional rights to fight against structural racism in the United States. And so for me, it's a real pleasure to be able to talk to you about this because education is core to our human rights and civil rights.
Andrew: Well, we're grateful to have you and grateful for all the work that goes on at Howard.
Justin Hansford: You know, I am a third-generation Howard alum. I only went for one generation, but my mother also graduated from Howard and my grandmother and grandfather also graduated from Howard. Our graduates include Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, Charles Houston was our most famous dean. We have many celebrated alumni from Howard University and so it’s a great legacy to be part of.
Andrew: Could you tell us a little bit about how you came to care about racial justice in general, but then specifically as it relates to educational justice?
Justin Hansford: Racial justice is something that is always present when you are someone who grows up in an African American household, specifically someone who grows up in a household that is immersed in the legacy of Howard University. For me, I became more of an activist on the issue after I graduated from school because I moved to St. Louis in 2011, and I'd been there for three years when Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, about 10 minutes away from where I lived. And as you can imagine that was a transformative experience for me, not only his killing but also seeing the response by the protesters. The creation of the Black Lives Matter movement essentially happening right before my eyes.
So for me, I knew that I had to find a way to use my skills to promote that movement and racial justice. The school-to-prison pipeline is something that is always in the back of people's minds and even Mike Brown's life, you know, the way that he was policed as he was walking down the street, his relationship to law enforcement was something that many black teenagers experience. I myself experienced that growing up in Washington DC area. So I knew that the issues that we face in terms of racial justice were issues that started young. So it's always something where education was part of the story for trying to solve these problems including racial equality.
Andrew: What seems really unique about your perspective, at least from what I've seen out there, is talking about reparations, and directly tying that to education.
Courtney: I want to back up just a little bit and can you give us a bit of an overview of the concept of reparations in general?
Justin Hansford: Oh yeah, sure. So, two ways to think about it and I want to stretch our imagination a little bit in both space and time.
So I can begin with space. Reparations has taken place all over the world whenever there have been mass human rights violations. That includes in the aftermath of the Holocaust. It includes in South Africa and the aftermath of apartheid in South America after dictators, like Pinochet, engaged in human rights violations, there was talk about reparations. Canada recently has provided reparations for crimes committed against Indigenous peoples. All around the world people provide reparations on a systemic level when there has been a breach.
So the term reparation comes out of this root of repair, seeking reparative justice, and people have sought around the world to repair a breach, to repair a breaking of ties through processes which acknowledge that harm was done , processes that seek to correct the harm to the best of our possibility. So the process of providing a type of offering of reconciliation, again, it's something that we have seen happen all across the world not only in financial terms, but in symbolic terms. The creation of monuments in Germany that remind us to never again repeat what happened in the Holocaust, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created in South Africa by Bishop Desmond Tutu.
So, we see over and over again efforts to try to make things right and people, people don't always get it right. Oftentimes, those efforts come up short and folks have to continue to go back to the table again and keep having these discussions. It's an ongoing process and it's a very universal process where people all around the world are engaged in this project and it's a project that comes out of our humanity and our desire to create social justice.
I also just want to speak a little bit on the issue of time. I think this is something that has been an effort that societies have made for hundreds of years, but specifically in the United States, as soon as slavery ended there was an effort for repair. There was an activist, a black woman named Callie House, who as early as I believe the 1870s, 1880s created a grassroots movement to provide recompense for formerly enslaved people for the work that they had provided when they were “owned”. And that effort was destroyed, but ever since then the effort for reparations for African Americans has continued in an unbroken chain.
There's always been an effort for reparations in the United States. If we believe ourselves to be a just and fair society, if we are going to tell our history including both the positive and the negative, the ups and the downs, if we're going to be honest with ourselves and we're going to face our history squarely, this has to be part of the process.
Courtney: Can you talk a little bit about why there's been an upsurge in the national profile worthy focus on reparations. Why do you think this is happening?
Justin Hansford: I think that the rise of social media has given voice to these arguments in a more central way. I think people have been able to talk about it, and of course, I think central to that is the Black Lives Matter movement and its decision, as a movement, to make reparations part of the platform .
Andrew: And so now we're sort of we're talking about reparations as a way to think about educational justice and I'm wondering if you can take us into that a little bit. Like what is the, what is the thing that needs to be repaired in our past education that a reparations framework would be helpful in addressing?
Justin Hansford: If you think about our past, the segregation of our public schools was central to segregation and Jim Crow itself, and that is a good place to start. The historical segregation of public education has been recognized as core to racial injustice in the United States and once we establish that history, we can come back to the present and realize that in many ways, this is still happening.
So I also recommend that your listeners read The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates because what he talks about there is how housing segregation and redlining pre-constructed this gap in wealth. There was a report by an organization called EdBuild, which discussed how today in 2019, there is a gap of 23 billion dollars between school districts that have primarily white students and school districts that have primarily African-American students.
Now that, that finance gap is based, we know, on local funding for schools based on the tax base for each particular school district but the fact that we have primarily white neighborhoods and primarily black neighborhoods in the United States is not by accident. That was created by the government through a process called redlining. Systematically, mortgages were provided to people on the basis of race for most of our history. Today, that redlining practice has resulted in segregated neighborhoods, and because our schools are funded based on the wealth of the neighborhood, we still today have segregated public schools. So the history is ongoing. The past, not even past, it is still present, and if we are going to be able to make amends and try to repair the breach, we have to start right there with education. Because that is what sets up the foundation for our future and it is so clear and it's so explicit that segregation is undeniable. So for me, it's an easy case to make for reparations in the education context.
Courtney: So what seems interesting about thinking about this through reparations and the harm that segregation has wrought, right? The very material and real deep harm- It's really about thinking differently about the resources that we put into schools. So how do we tie that to ongoing efforts for integration itself? I guess I'm kind of tripping over the issue of separate but equal.
Justin Hansford: Yeah, so one thing that in our history that has been a very confusing dynamic to me, is the connection between integration and equality in terms of educational outcome. So again, I'm coming from Howard, you know, we call ourselves the launching pad for Brown versus Board of Education because it came out of the work done by many of our graduates like Thurgood Marshall, and one of the premises of that case was the idea that separate cannot be equal. And it wasn't enough to fund segregated schools to the extent that they have equal resources, you had to actually integrate those schools so that students sat next to each other in those classes
But at the same time there's an alternate history of black parents during the Jim Crow years, right at the cusp of Brown versus Board of Education, who were saying, listen we want our kids to have a good education. We don't care if it's in an integrated school or not integrated school. We want them to have a good education now and oftentimes those efforts at integration were so costly, you know, if we think about those school children who tried to integrate schools in Little Rock. So many parents at the time said we'd rather have a good education for our children in a place that's safe for them. Even if that place is a school that is majority black because it's not clear that integration on its own without many other things will provide what is necessary for those kids to succeed.
So there's an alternate history besides the the push for integrated schools and you can think of it as a push for quality schools which acknowledges that historically segregation was a force for evil when it came to providing for the academic and psychological health of the students, but at the same time integration on its own is not necessarily enough. So as you try to struggle with that complex history, to me the conversation today has to continue that push for quality schools. So today the reality is we still have segregated neighborhoods and we still would have to do something else besides what we're doing now to get kids out of their neighborhoods to integrate the schools. It's very controversial as to what that thing would be. In the meantime, there's a desperate need for quality education today, just like 50, 60 years ago. I think there's a strong argument to be made that we need to invest the money to make sure that the kids have quality education now and think about integration as a longer-term project which is going to call for integration of housing, integration of neighborhoods. It's going to call for a lot more than simply shifting the kids around.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean we we think about this and sort of the difference between desegregation and integration, that desegregation is simply the question of moving kids around and that, by itself, doesn’t often solve real educational justice issues because we see all the time now schools that from the outside appear to be desegregated, but then you get inside the building and you see that the classrooms are segregated, that the advanced placement classes are all white and the remedial classes are all black or brown kids. You see that, you know discipline is being distributed unequally to kids based on race and so, you know, making a shift to real meaningful integration, that I think, requires some decentering of whiteness and white values.
Justin Hansford: I agree with your push sort of to redefine what integration means. I think that's a good idea. The need is for more than just resources. So in the human rights language, when you think about the human rights legal discussion, people use this term “non-repetition” as part of the deal that struck between communities trying to seek repair. But in addition to non-repetition, often times, you cannot even get the political will necessary for meaningful repair without educating people about what happened. There are a lot of parents who don't even know about the history of segregation in this country. They don't know about what has happened in their own county. I went to school in Montgomery County Maryland public schools, that has a long history of segregation and that's something I didn't know until recently when I started doing my own research. I went to public schools that, as you described, had a divide between the AP courses and people who are on the AP track and the other population that wasn't, and that was a racial divide. As a young African-American middle schooler or high schooler, I was accepted to some of those gifted and talented programs, and I'd have to leave my African-American friends behind to go into these classes where I was one of only two or three students, and then go and hang out with them and play basketball afterwards and it was a stark divide. It was two different communities inside the same school.
We have to be honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly right? The things that we are proud about in terms of our history and education, but also the things that we are ashamed about and we have to be willing to try to make amends, I believe, and I believe if we make the effort to make amends, we’ll be surprised at how much of a difference that will make in not only the students who are most in need of that reparation, but also in the broader attitude between students of different backgrounds. You know, without teaching our children about that history, I just don't think that they really can understand the horrible consequences that can ensue once those types of attitudes become ingrained.
Andrew: There's an argument to be made that resource distribution has never been equal unless white kids have been there. And so the only thing that's ever equitably distributed resources has been desegregation. And the push back to that is well, then we just haven't tried hard enough, you know, we've never tried to actually equitably distribute resources. And if the thing that needs repair in education is disparate resources, is it enough to just try to come up with more meaningful equity driven resource distribution? Or is there some additional value to taking that also to meaningful integration?
Justin Hansford: We can't have a diverse school population where those kids don't see the value in each other, in the value in diversity, and they're not honest about the history of inequality and how that has created the dynamic that we live in today. We have to teach our kids everything about our history and hopefully that will then change people's attitudes towards each other and especially the attitudes of the kids towards other kids. Because if you don't know that there was redlining for example, and I don't know how many kids in public schools learn about redlining. I didn't I didn't learn about it until I was in college. So I don't know how many kids learn about that. If you don't know about redlining, you may just say to yourself, hey, well all the black, Latino kids are in a poor area, you know all the white kids are in a rich area, I guess that's because the white parents are smarter
Andrew: Work harder.
Justin Hansford: the right. Yeah, but if [Crosstalk]
Courtney: Meritocracy, the myth of meritocracy.
Justin Hansford: Meritocracy, exactly and it's, you know, it’s logic if you don't understand the history,that's a hard, it's a hard discussion. But if we can have it there in the school setting, I think it sets us up to have a better discussion in the larger political setting because people will have already had that background and they can come to the table and discuss things honestly afterwards.
Courtney: The benefits of of actually integrating might be really different for kids of color and white kids right or privileged kids because more equitable distribution of resources is something that you know, we can point to research and show that Black kids in integrated schools have access to far greater resources, right? But you know, the things that white kids get from these experiences is is that shared understanding and broader perspective of History, right?
Justin Hansford:So I agree with that. I think everybody gains from an integrated school system. And I think the biggest gain outside of the, you know, the short-term to long-term, the gain is we create a better society. I think we create the society that we can be proud of; we create a society that we won't have to go back and try to correct for the structural wrong . I think the thing that the interesting thing about this podcast to me, you know, I think just by having a podcast which advocates for integrated schools today in 2019, you’re acknowledging that we are not there yet. We're still trying to get there. And so these wrongs are ongoing. They're not historical wrongs.
And so with urgency we have to make sure we get out of a segregated context to begin with, because this is not, this is not reparations for things that ended in 1954, or that ended in 1968, right? The school-to-prison pipeline is happening now in some schools at a much higher rate than other schools you know, so we have a lot to answer for today. So I think that adds a sense of urgency to it as well.
Andrew: Yeah. So assuming we had the political will to do something, what would it look like? You know, how does it sort of, actually - and I don't want to, you know, I think a lot of times, the pushback to any talk of reparations is like: well exactly how would that work? Who gets how much money? And on what sort of you know payment plan do they get it, kind of. I'm not, I don't want to put that that pressure. I think, there's there's space for agreeing something should be done prior to figuring out how to actually do it. But what, in your mind, what does it look like to actually meaningfully try to repair that gap in education?
Justin Hansford: It looks like investment. I think it doesn't look like checks paid to certain individuals. I think it looks like an investment in systems on the south side of Chicago and southeast DC, in Third Ward in Houston and you know, Compton. Investment in systems where the system is clearly broken. That looks like investment that creates more opportunity for hiring the best teachers.
I live near Baltimore where they found lead in the water. I think you know there was a situation about two years ago, when they didn't have heat in some of the public school buildings and you know parents were outraged because it was freezing cold. And they couldn't provide the basics in some of these Public Schools. So these are these are things that money can fix and that we should invest our money into fixing because you cannot learn in those types of environments.
I think the biggest mistake would be to think of reparations in terms of cutting a check for people who don't deserve it, or for a crime that you were not involved in personally because it happened so long ago. You know, I think that I think the traditional way many people think about reparations is completely divorced from reality. The best way, and the more accurate way, to think about reparations is systemic intervention for wrongs that are ongoing and that are responsibilities that we share as citizens.For students in these public school systems, students who didn't do anything to deserve the disadvantageous treatment that they're receiving in these school systems. That's a crisis. That's a natural disaster and all of our tax dollars should be pooled to determine what we can do to help fix those systems. This is our public education system. And that's the way to think about reparations.
I think that it's a situation where we if we were to lay out the disparities in these school systems, I think that we can find ways to use funds and you know, again go beyond money. I think we can find ways to shift the curriculum. I think we can find ways to even engage in symbolic actions like rename some of the schools named after Confederate figures.
So there are many things that we can do to actualize these efforts in the education context. And again, I think even from a political perspective, it makes the most sense to start with the children. The children are in desperate need. People, I think, recognize that their needs don't come from anything that they did to deserve, you know, that situation. There are no kids in Baltimore Public School System who deserve to be in a school with no heat in the winter when it's below freezing. They did nothing to deserve that.
So I think that's something that people can agree on. From a political perspective, I think it's a good place to start.
Courtney: So thinking about reparations in in relation to integration, I fear that we run a risk of making some really problematic linkages right? Like, that could potentially be interpreted as white folks have to pay by sitting their kids next to black and brown kids. And that's really troubling for a thousand reasons, right? It's awfulizing these black and brown kids. It's erasing the benefit and value of being together. And I think it really sets up this conversation around integration as another kind of white saviorism.
Justin Hansford: That is a very difficult problem to solve because, you're right, there's a deficit narrative that already exists and so when you, not desegregate but integrate these schools, we are coming to the table in 2019, where there are narratives around who is smart and who is not smart. You know, the black kid should be happy to be in the classrooms with the white kids, and the white white kids are paying some sort of debt by being in classes with the black kids.
But the problem is that the narratives are there today already. I'm and I don't have an answer for us to try to erase those narratives. So today in 2019, in any context, when you put the black kids and the white kids together, those assumptions are there. So when, so perhaps making people face those assumptions, by putting them together and having discussions about that very topic, perhaps that can at least get some things on the table so that they can be refuted. To me that's the best project, because today we already have these assumptions based on race. I can't see how there's any contexts where the dynamic you describe doesn't doesn't come into play it. Wherever you have black and white students - it could be on the University level - we see it happening at the Ivy Leagues where, you know, students are saying that “well you're an affirmative action kid, and you know, you should be happy to be here and some white student gave up their spot so you can be here”.
So, you know, there's no context where that discussion isn't playing out. I don't know if we can avoid that discussion. But I think avoidance is a bad tactic. I think a better tactic is putting that on the table and allowing people to discuss it.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean this is why I think the idea that reparations is not solely a financial thing or resources thing, that has to include an education piece, is so important, because if you put the kids in the same place and then you give them the actual context - the history of redlining , the ways that all of our preconceived notions about who is a good student and who isn't and who is exceptional and who isn't and you know, what what sort of futures are available to what types of kids - If you then start talking about them and giving kids the context to understand their world better, it seems like that's the only hope that we have to get through to some other side.
Justin Hansford: Yes, there has been a blossoming in terms of literature on race over the course of the past few years, which I connect to the Black Lives Matter movement, I think for really opening up a lot of space in our culture for it. But Ibram Kendi has written a book called How to be an Anti-Racist. You know, so that's that's one place to start. You could talk about the work of Michelle Alexander in talking about our criminal justice system and its inequalities, you know. There's just, the list goes on in terms of resources that can be used to have these discussions so that they're, so that just like you said, the education piece becomes part of it. And you get those things out on the table early on, you have those discussions, and then you allow people to experience the benefits from being in that diverse environment, which are going to be really, I think it would be some great environments to be. I wish I was educated in an integrated school like that, because I think that that has a lot of possibility to eliminate a lot of ills going forward.
Andrew: What does it matter if we get this right? Why should we all as a country be invested in trying to repair this this wrong?
Justin Hansford: Well race right now is is ripping our country apart. Our country is politically divided on the grounds of race. You see that with the discussions around immigration. We see that with the criminal justice system. You see that with public education. All of these divides have racial undertones and, if we don't address those, ultimately our country will face a constitutional crisis and there will be more unrest and things will continue to go to go in the wrong direction. So the only hope to save our country, if you ask me, is to address these problems. And without some sort of pathway forward on equality in our country, our country can't survive. So, yeah, no pressure! (Laughter) No pressure at all.
Andrew: Oh man. Yeah. Well listen, we cannot thank you enough for coming on the show and sharing your insight with our listeners. We're very grateful to have you.
Justin Hansford: I really enjoyed this - looking forward to hearing it.
Andrew: So, first of all, huge thanks to professor Hansford for sharing his insights and time with us. You know, I, I come away from this conversation thinking about a few things.
First of all, is just how far the conversation around reparations has come. I don't recall when I first learned about the idea, but certainly my memory of the concept growing up was as something sort of fringe and unserious and just like steeped in anti-black racist ideology. And I was really struck by Professor Hanford's point that, you know, Black Lives Matter, social media, and various writers and thinkers have really moved the question into the mainstream.
You know, it's not an outrageous position. And, and particularly, I think in light of the EdBuild report that Professor Hansford mentioned, that highlights that there is a $23 billion funding gap between school districts serving predominantly white students and those serving predominantly students of color, like the harm of segregation, the breach created by these policies is not something that's lost to history, right? It's an ongoing injustice.
And Professor Hanford definitely pushes for resources now as a way to address that injustice, and then, you know, worry about integration later. I while that may seem counter to our mission at Integrated Schools, I reconcile that by acknowledging the role white and privileged families have to play in fighting for better resources. We know that desegregation is the only thing that has worked on a large scale to improve resource distribution. But we also know, as Professor Hansford says that desegregation alone isn't enough to actually fix educational injustice. And so, you know, how we show up really matters, but just showing up does matter. You know, being in community and then lending our voices to a fight for investment, as active participants in the system. That's something that we can do now to advance the cause.
The other concept that kept tripping me up after this conversation was the idea that Courtney so effectively highlighted in her question about the potential issues of framing this as reparations - that we are somehow asking white people to “pay” reparations by sitting our kids next to black and brown kids. And, while I certainly have much more to learn about the reparations movement in the US, it seems to me that if we think about reparations as something that individuals engage in, it becomes really problematic, really quickly. It feels more helpful to me to think about reparations as a collective act - something that we, as a society, come together to do. So our job, as white and / or privileged people isn’t to actively engage in paying reparations, but rather to lend our voice to the collective demand to repair the breaches in our history.
And of course, that means that we have know our history and talk about it. We'll never build the will to try to fix the broken systems if we don't face, head on, the truth of how these systems came to be. You know, it's not enough to just desegregate your kid. I think we really have to do the work of learning the history and then finding ways to provide that history and that context to our kids.
And you know, while I think these conversations are both more likely to happen and more likely to be meaningful for kids if they are in integrating school, as parents, we still have to have the conversations. The power of the existing narratives really complicates this work, but maybe like just maybe desegregating our kids, integrating our families with humility and then having these conversations with our kids is, is a good first step. I don't know. You know, how to have those conversations with our kids, when is something that I definitely continue to struggle with and hopefully we'll try to address in a future episode, but it seems like we have to try.
There's a reading list in the show notes to help get started on the learning process. You can come over to our Patreon page to discuss - patreon.com/integratedschools. Support this work, join the forum, join our monthly podcast happy hour. If that's not your speed, share this podcast with your friends, leave us a rating or review. Let us know what you think. [email protected] or find us on social media @integratedschools.
So, that's one down without Courtney, I expect it will get easier.
Just a quick personal thank you to everyone who has reached out to express their condolences and offer support and help in so many ways. Hearing from so many people who have been impacted by Courtney and by this podcast has been heartwarming. And, um, I'm humbled and deeply grateful for each and every one of you.
And of course, as always, I am grateful to be in this with you as we try to know better and do better. See you next time.