In 1954, Louis Redding, Delaware’s first Black attorney, joined the legal team at the NAACP to argue the Brown v Board case.  Having agued two of the lower court cases that were incorporated into the Brown case, he was a key member of the team, along with Thurgood Marshall, who won perhaps the mostly widely known and celebrated court case ever.  Sixty years later, his grandson, Stefan Lallinger, found himself teaching at school in New Orleans with over 90% students of color.  This segregation wasn’t caused by explicit, legal requirements for segregated schools, and yet it still happened.  Lallinger’s curiosity led him to get a doctorate and eventually to leading The Bridges Collaborative, a hub for school and housing practitioners to work together to advance the cause of integration.  

Lallinger joins us to discuss his family legacy, how it shapes his current work, and what legacy he hopes to leave for his kids.  

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The Integrated Schools Podcast was created by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.

This episode was produced by Andrew Lefkowits and Val Brown.  It was edited, and mixed by Andrew Lefkowits.

Music by Kevin Casey.

 

Transcript

Generational Work: Stefan Lallinger on Integration

Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I'm Andrew, a White dad from Denver.

Val: And I'm Val, a Black mom from North Carolina.

Andrew: And this is Generational Work: Stefan Lallinger on Integration.

Val: And that folks is how you know Andrew pitched the episode’s title.

Andrew: That's sort of my catch phrase. I have been known to talk about generational work.

Val: And I love it. I am so glad that you talk about it, because I think it is a good reminder of the investment that we're making.

Andrew: Yes. And, I mean, it does feel like a fitting title for the conversation we're going to listen to today, right?

Val: Absolutely. I will give you that one. Um, but before we jump in, I would love to reflect on the last episode. I mean, it was, you know, risky.

Andrew: It was risky. Yeah. I've heard a lot of very positive feedback about it. I wanna, I texted you afterwards, but I want to also say it on the episode, I just want to thank you for engaging in that conversation with me. It felt like a really, a really powerful and hopefully helpful conversation.

Val: Yeah, the, I will say the best feedback I got was from my in-laws. I didn't know they were listening. So “hi, in-laws!” And so they really got into the episode as well and were able to relate. And it was just really powerful too, in that idea of generational work, that multiple generations are listening and engaging with the podcast. So that was dope.

Andrew: Yeah. I love that. And I think the act of just coming back together. I mean, I hope you had a nice Shirley Temple. I may have had something a little stronger, but, but here we are back to, uh, to try again.

Val: And I am glad that we are back and trying again. Cause I don't think we can leave these conversations the same and that's the point.

Andrew: Yep. For sure. So let's talk about the conversation we're going to have today.

Val: Our guest today has generations of civil rights work that he's living into.

Andrew: Yeah. Stefan Lallinger, his grandfather was the first Black attorney in Delaware and was part of the NAACP team that argued the Brown v Board case. That is like some, some serious integration cred and also like massive ancestral shoes to try to step into.

Val: Like, no doubt. I think I would be a little nervous if I were him. But...

Andrew: But what are you gonna do? 

Val: You do the best job ever--you become a teacher! Woohoo! So excited that he chose education as a profession. And, you know, I know good teaching. I don't know if I told you this, but I was teacher of the year.

Andrew: Yes. Yes. Get it in again.

Val: Okay, cool. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool. I just, I just want to be clear. And listening to the conversation, I found myself thinking I could really be cool with the Lallinger family. I'm going to try to make them my friends.

Andrew: I will gladly make an introduction for you. I think that piece of having started as a teacher feels really important because it really gave him a sense of what it means to actually be in the classroom. And so he was a teacher in New Orleans. He left, eventually he got a doctorate at Harvard, found himself at The Century Foundation running the Bridges Collaborative, which is a hub for school and housing folks to really come together to try to advance the cause of integration.

Val: And, you know, it's interesting. You had the Plessy versus Ferguson case 125 years ago that said separate but equal was okay. And then 60 years after that, you have Stefan's grandfather who fought to upend that, with the Brown v Board case. And now, another 60 years later, Stefan finds himself fighting a similar battle. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Andrew: Yeah, it's almost like this is generational work.

Val: Indeed. Checkmate. Let's listen to the conversation.

Andrew: Let's do it.

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Stefan Lallinger: My name is Stefan Lallinger. I'm the director of the Bridges Collaborative and I'm a fellow at The Century Foundation. I'm really excited to be here. 

Andrew: Very glad to have you. Before we get into the Bridges Collaborative and your current work, I'm wondering if we sort of step back a little bit and talk about how you found yourself caring about school integration as a topic and involved in this work, because you've been at it for a while now.

Stefan Lallinger: Absolutely Andrew. I mean, it happened very, very young. And it happened young because of my family's history in this area. So, my grandfather, whose name was Louis Redding, was a lawyer who spent most of his career working on issues of desegregation and ensuring that Black Americans, particularly in the state of Delaware, which is where he practiced. He was the only Black lawyer in Delaware for about a quarter century, if you can believe it, and spent much of his career working on behalf of Black Delawareans who just weren't getting equal treatment in the state of Delaware, particularly at the hands of the government. 

And so, and so that ultimately led to his involvement in Brown versus Board. He brought two suits in Delaware against local municipalities that were not granting access to African-American students to local White schools. As you know, Brown was made up of cases from multiple states. And so, then he became part of the legal team that brought Brown to the Supreme Court and ultimately won the, you know, the most well-known and celebrated Supreme Court case in history. 

Andrew: Yeah. He's a fascinating character. I can imagine you probably didn't end up with a whole lot of choice in terms of the influence that he had on your life. ‘Cause he was born in 1901, is that right?

Stefan Lallinger: That's right. You know, he had my mother very late in life. He had my mother when he was 55 years old. And so, what that meant for him was that he was born in 1901, at the turn of the century. And what that meant for me was, you know, I really only got to know my grandfather for a few years because he passed when I was fairly young. We only had a few years that overlapped, where I was old enough to sort of grasp some of these concepts I wanted to have conversations with him about, and where he still fully had all of his mental faculties. He was in, you know, in decline in his nineties and was dealing with a lot of health issues.

So, a lot of what I know about my grandfather, actually Andrew, comes from stories from my mother, stories from my aunts, even things that I've read about him. But it was a fascination that I had with the work that he did, particularly because, you know, as a really young person, we tend to have a really idealized view of what the world is and how the world is. 

And I think I absolutely fell into that category. I thought about the world as this place, that if Brown vs Board of Education happened already, then we've progressed to a place where the ideals espoused in Brown exist in society around us. That's my mind-state as a second grader. And, you know, I tell the story sometimes that I was so fascinated and proud of the work my grandfather did, that as a second grader, I thought it was really important for me to tell my other second grade classmates about things like desegregation and integration. So I dressed up in a suit in second grade. I grabbed a briefcase and marched to school and delivered this explanation of, you know, segregation to my fellow second graders. I don't know what they thought about my presentation at the time.

Andrew: How much of it they caught, right?

Stefan Lallinger: Right, right. But, you know, the interesting thing was from the lens of a second grader, you know, my class was pretty diverse. And so the things that I was saying just seemed to make sense. And so, that was the beginning of my interest in issues of integration.

But honestly, I think it deepened the older I became and the more I started to realize that our society doesn't actually match the ideals that we've espoused in Brown. That I, the older I got, the more I started to see segregation in my very own school, and my own, in the classes that I was put in. 

Particularly for me, I identify as biracial. My mother's Black and my father is White. So particularly as a young biracial kid at a time when, you know, I grew up in North Carolina. There weren't that many other biracial kids around. I'm trying to figure out who I am. And so, as I'm trying to figure out who I am and I'm seeing segregation happen academically, socially, it further confuses me. But further sort of inspires me to try and learn more about this and to try and get to the bottom of it.

Andrew: Yeah. This idea, I mean, and I certainly shared it. I don't know when my kind of faith in it was shaken, it was probably not as early as yours. But that Brown v Board is in the past. You know, racism is in the past. And then sort of that lionization of Brown v Board, which clearly was a monumental victory, but also maybe not quite as much of a victory for justice as, like, the story or the narrative of it is. And that it was finished and it was in the past.

How were we misled? How was that not a story that we are, that was kind of constantly being told and retold? 

Stefan Lallinger: I think about that a lot. I mean, in part, because we want to believe that that is what America is. We want to have this faith that our country lives up to the things that it espouses. And you have this case that almost no one can disagree with the merits of. You've got a unanimous decision which, on contentious issues, doesn't often happen.

And so, we want desperately to believe that that's who we are. And so it's hard to tell the story of what happens after Brown that we all know. Which is, you know, a very complicated story. And part of that story is that, you know, although years later, we look back on the Brown decision and, with unanimity, we can say that was the right decision. No one ever goes to the fact that “But look at the segregated nature of our schools today. Isn't there some dissonance there?”

So it's a complicated history. I think it's not an easy story to tell. And I think it doesn't sort of match up with what we want to believe, desperately want to believe about our country. 

Andrew: Yeah. Did your, did your grandfather have any insight into that in the later years of his life and the complicated legacy of the work that he was so passionately involved in?

Stefan Lallinger: It's a really good question. One that I was never able to pose to him directly, and one I'd be really interested to get his take on. I'm often asked, “what would he think about the state of schools today?” Or when I was leading a school, I think, you know this, I was the principal of a school in New Orleans that was not segregated by law, but functionally segregated along the lines of race and class. And so I often thought about that. You know, here I am, the grandson of a man who six decades prior won this Supreme Court case. And I'm the principal of what's functionally a segregated school.

So, I think it's safe to say he'd be highly disappointed that, you know, that we hadn’t made more progress six and a half decades on. But I don't think that he was blind to the fact that you know, progress is hard fought and that, even if you pass a law, even if you get a Supreme Court case decided in your favor, society doesn't turn just like that.

So, while he'd be disappointed, I don't know that he'd be entirely surprised. I think he probably would be dismayed at the degree of the backslide that we've seen. Not just over the last couple of decades, but just even over the last 5 and 10 years, as more statistics come out about how hyper-segregated, along the lines of race and class, we continue to be, and slide in the wrong direction. 

Andrew: Yeah. I'm sure that none of the people involved in the fight for Brown v Board thought that this court decision was going to go their way and their work would be done. That that would solve racism in the country. But that is in some ways the story that we get told. 

So you hinted a little bit, you have found yourself living into this legacy a little bit. You were a teacher. You were a school leader. Take me through your journey into that space a little bit.

Stefan Lallinger: Sure. When I was in college, and I was trying to think about, you know, how to best enrich my understanding of some of these issues. I really thought there was no better way than for me to become a teacher. And something else happened while I was in college that really moved me in a way that I felt compelled to do something about. And that was Hurricane Katrina. And seeing the images of the sheer lack of urgent and adequate response by the government, in response to what was happening in New Orleans, really shook me. 

And I felt this sort of strange, and I say strange because I don't have any direct ties to New Orleans, but I felt this kinship with the people of New Orleans that I felt moved to do something about it that went beyond a donation here or a spring break there, you know. And so I decided to move to New Orleans and to teach in New Orleans, in large part because all of the things that I just said, but also, there was a real shortage at the time of folks in education.

And it was the best decision I ever made. I moved to New Orleans. I fell in love with the city. Fell in love with the work and the students that I was, you know, privileged to be able to serve. And I actually ended up staying at the same school for nine years. And it was really the privilege of my career to be able to do that. 

Andrew: Right. So you were a teacher. You were a school leader at this K-8 Langston Hughes Academy in New Orleans. You really got to know the work on the ground level. But it seems like at some point, you felt like you needed to kind of step back and look at it more broadly and kind of think more systemically.

Stefan Lallinger: At some point, I started to look at the situation in New Orleans. And here we were, after Katrina, they've sort of remade the system. As you know, there are a lot of charter schools in New Orleans at the time. And a lot gets made of that. I am not one who wades into taking sides on the charter movement there, more so than what I think are some of the other stories that get buried in the broader New Orleans story. 

One of which is around segregation, which is that. So you have a system after Katrina that has now found itself an “all choice” system. So where you live doesn't have anything to do with where you go to school. You know, you apply to school and you could live on the West Bank of New Orleans, and you could go to school in New Orleans East, if you wanted. You could live in the French Quarter and you could go to school in Gentilly. 

The point is, one of the key things that we often think about in terms of upholding segregation, which is the fact that, in most parts of the country, where you live dictates where you go to school, and where you live is segregated, so...we'd done away with that. And yet we still had segregation. 

And so that was a very real example for me of, okay, this thing is not just about severing the tie between where you live and where you go to school. That's a piece of it, clearly. But you can do that and still not have integration in New Orleans, is a perfect case in point in that.

And so, at some point, I wanted to really take some time away to think about what are the levers outside of the school building itself. Because we had taken several steps at the school to think about ways that we might be able to have an integrated student body in a neighborhood that was actively becoming more diverse. In a neighborhood in Gentilly where we saw tons of White families and middle-class families in the neighborhood and none of them attended our school.

So, for me, I wanted to spend some time digging into this issue some more. And so that's when I went to go pursue my doctorate in educational leadership to study this thing full time and had the wonderful privilege to be able to do that. It was a very difficult decision because, as you can tell, the way I talk about Langston Hughes is, you know, it was a very special place to me. It was very hard for me to leave. There were some days where I woke up thinking that this was going to be the job that I did for the rest of my life, being the principal of that school. I enjoyed it that much. 

And so it's a difficult decision, but ultimately, you know, gave me the time and the space to really dig into these issues in ways that I hadn't before. As part of that, I got to spend a year at the New York City Department of Education working under Chancellor Carranza who at the time was brand new to DOE. He was talking about this issue and it was just so inspirational to me to have. For years we've had leaders, superintendents, politicians run as far and fast away from this issue as possible.

Andrew: Unwilling to even say the word integration, much less do anything about it.

Stefan Lallinger: Right. And so here's a man who, on his first day on the job, you know, was talking about what he notices. He's not from New York, so he can say “Look, I just got here. And this is the most diverse city in the world. And you guys are really segregated. Like, what's going on here?” And demonstrated a willingness to do something about it. 

And so, I had the privilege of working in the Chancellor's office and it just gave me a first-hand look, the messiness and the depth of the politics involved in making the kinds of large scale changes that you would in the largest school system in America to try and make it a more integrated place.

And so, so yes, the combination of all of those experiences have given me a particular lens on this issue that I've tried to, you know, hone over the years and think about really strategically with folks who are in the field practitioners. To think about how we can actually make some movement on this issue as practitioners. 

Andrew: Yeah. What are the kind of, like, big lessons you took away? I mean, you have New Orleans, the sort of “let's remove the relevance of residential segregation to schooling and we still see segregated schools.” And New York City, where there is no reason that schools could not be integrated in New York City, the most diverse city, you know, potentially in the world. Like, the capacity is there and yet we don't see it. And, and Carranza, I mean, you know, spoke a lot about it and fought hard and faced significant political headwinds to actually achieving it and moving it.

What do you think about, kind of like, the big lessons that you took from those experiences? Where are the big barriers to actually making meaningful progress?

Stefan Lallinger: Well, first of all, and this isn't surprising: politics, politics, politics. There, you know, there are, I think, a set of beliefs among a lot of the elites in this country around what constitutes a “good school” and “good schooling.” And those beliefs are very entrenched. And when you have power, whether that's political, economic, you know, any kind of power and you perceive yourself to have the best of something, whether it's true or not. And as you well know, there are tons of fallacies around what our notions of a “quality education” and what a “good school” actually is. But when you perceive yourself to have the upper hand in that kind of a system, you don't want to let it go. 

And that manifests itself in different ways, in different situations. So, in New York City, you know, there are a group of parents who exert a lot of influence and a lot of power on city politics. And it's not in ways that are always visible. And so, if that block of parents wants to resist change, they have a lot of different ways to do that. 

Even if the data is in your favor. Even if logically the changes make sense. Even if you can point to the research that says why this would be better for everyone.  Politics trumps all of that. And so, being smart about the politics is both really, really difficult and really, really important.

And again, this isn't a, this isn't a new lesson. I'm not sort of like, you know, sharing anything that's some sort of secret thing that we never knew about this. It's always been about the politics. The political challenges are different today than they were in the seventies and eighties and nineties. And even the way we talk about the issue is different and some of the obstacles are different. But it's still, ultimately, you're trying to make big changes about things in the public domain in an area in which people both feel entitled to and actually do have a lot of power. And can hold people accountable in certain ways that make it really, really difficult to make some of the changes that need to be made. 

Andrew: Yeah. I mean that political force that you're, that you're referring to is so often White parents. And other parents with privilege. You know, the story is similar, mayoral control or not, New York City or other cities, and I think that sort of drives a lot of our work is like, how do we try to interrupt that? 

Because it does seem like the barrier all along the way is White parents and how we show up. And how we kind of wield the power over the institutions that we design, that we then design to cater to our needs, and that we design to, you know, maintain these kinds of advantages that we have.

Stefan Lallinger: Yeah, I think that, that is certainly right. I would add to that, I think it goes beyond just the block of White parents, which are not a monolith, to include elites of all races and backgrounds, right? Who breathe in these sort of notions around what “quality schooling” is. 

And, this is, you know, another topic that I'm really passionate about, which, because I get a lot of questions about this, you know? And you and I have talked about this before, you know, one of the things that was interesting to me when I started to talk to other integration advocates in 2021 was being, you know, pretty surprised at how White-dominated the space was, at least among the folks who comment on this and write about this issue. For a person of color, to be in this space, a lot of questions that I get are from people of color who have their own skepticisms about integration. And it's a topic that I'm really, really passionate about too, because, yes, it's important to mobilize White parents to consider the ways in which the system responds differently to the needs and wants of White parents than to students of color, typically. But also it's important to engage people of color who were skeptical of this, you know, oftentimes for historically legitimate reasons, and it’s incumbent on us to talk about “How is this endeavor, this effort that we are undertaking today different then what has happened in the past?”

Because the criticism that I hear a lot of times from people of color, particularly of, you know, my parents' generation is, and this is them speaking the first-person, “I went through desegregation. And let me tell you, you know, there's some stuff that we had to face that I wouldn't wish on you or wouldn't wish on your kids, either.” And that's the piece that we don't talk about enough. And that we should because I think there are a lot of lessons learned there. Which is that, you know, the way desegregation happened, particularly through court order, was often destructive to communities of color in that, you know, you had Black teachers who lost their jobs and weren't able to get them back. You had Black principals who lost their jobs that weren't able to get them back. You had Black students who were entering openly hostile environments. 

You had situations where, and you know, this was Du Bois’, you know, three decades before we even get to the era of court ordered desegregation, Du Bois’ main worry and concern about integration was that you had a whole bunch of White teachers at the time, and this was, I think, in the 1920s or thirties that he was writing about this, who carried actively hostile and destructive views and understandings of the history and the contributions of Black people in this country, that he was worried about the well-being of Black students in those spaces. 

So, if that's the lens that you're coming from, you know, it makes sense that you would be skeptical about integration. But that's why I think it's so important for us to talk about what our vision is for integration in 2021. It's not that. It's not for Black students to enter, you know, openly hostile environments. It's to make sure that there's representation for Black students in integrated spaces. It’s to make sure that Black students have role models in integrated spaces. It’s to make sure that the curriculum that we have in integrated spaces is affirming and speaks truth about our nation's history. And all of those things are possible! And we know that when we do those things, it's so much of a richer space. For all kids. For everyone, right?

And so that, that is something we don't talk about enough because we're afraid to engage with, you know, folks who may be skeptical of this endeavor for legitimate reasons, historical reasons. And I just think we should talk about that more often, because the more we talk about that, the more we make sure we don't make some of the same mistakes that we've made in the past. And the more we can make sure we're deliberate about creating environments in 2021 that are not only diverse, but are also affirming. And I think that that's just really, really important. 

Andrew: Yeah, talk a little bit more about it. Because I do think there is that, like, totally legitimate skepticism of, kind of, well-intentioned White folks who are sort of, were responsible for all the ways that desegregation probably went wrong in the past. And then, I think there is, there certainly feels like, a movement of, like, a return to Plessy, like, “Let's go back to separate but equal, but actually make equal right.” 

Stefan Lallinger: Right. Well, you know, you do hear sort of a lot of Neo-Plessy arguments today. And I think it's important to sort of ask proponents of Neo-Plessy arguments, “Where in the United States today in the public school system, where there is segregation, do we have resources that are on par with White schools that are segregated? Do we have money going to those schools, both from schools and outside sources going to those schools? Do we have facilities that are on par? And do we have outcomes that are on par?” And it's not to say that it can't happen, but the question is, where in the United States does it exist in the public school system. Okay? 

To me, there's a huge difference between, and this is really important to me. There's a huge difference between Black institutions that are Black-led, that are Black created, that are affirming to Black people. And I would give it as a prime example, when I was growing up in North Carolina and I went to public school, it was integrated, but largely White. It was really, really important to my parents that we went to our church, which was a Black church. And in that Black church, I was exposed to role models. And I was exposed to people who told me stories about what they went through to get to where they were, so that we wouldn't have to go through those things. And I was exposed to Black leadership and I was exposed to all of these things that were so important for me to see. 

If I juxtapose my church experience or I juxtapose, for example, you know, friends of mine who went to HBCUs and rave about their experience. And I've had a phenomenal experience every time I've stepped foot on Howard's campus. Or my wife who had an incredible experience in her, you know, she's a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, in her all Black sorority.

These to me, are very different propositions than segregated spaces in the public domain that are arms of the government. So schools that are publicly funded by the government, where in a lot of urban schools in America today that are majority Black, the majority of the teaching force isn't Black.

So, many of these things that are true in a lot of these spaces that we idealize, (and we should idealize because they make such a difference in our lives they enrich our lives in innumerable ways) are simply not true of the vast majority of segregated public K-12 schools in this country, which are by and large, not as a rule, but by and large, underinvested in, have facilities that don't match other facilities in even that given school district or adjacent school districts, that have teachers who are under-credentialed relative to other teachers. So these are not the same kinds of spaces that we are talking about.

And if we could be guaranteed to, to create some of those spaces, that would be a completely different proposition. But that's just not the way that history has shown us our society is set up or works. That those resources aren't going to sort of magically be funneled to segregated institutions that are paid for by public tax dollars. 

So that's the sort of, for me, one of the principle arguments against the sort of Neo-Plessyism that I think comes up a lot, is that, let's talk about what we actually mean, and what's, what's possible and show me some evidence of where this exists in things that are funded by taxpayers. 

And then there's a whole nother argument with it, which is just sort of, for us as Americans, right? Is there not a value proposition, particularly after a contentious 5 to 10 years that we've had in this country where people can't agree on anything, where people disagree about literally everything? Is there not a value proposition in people who come from different backgrounds, who look different from one another, who speak different languages or practice different religions, coming together on a regular basis to work together and to learn together? And wouldn't that make our society better?

So that's, that's a whole nother piece that I think is not incompatible with people who are “racial and cultural minorities” in this country, and I use that term just to say they're not part of the mainstream, need to have spaces that are affirming for them. And that we do better in society generally when we have those spaces. That's not in opposition to the fact that we should, in our public K-12 schools that are funded by the government, encourage people of different walks of life to live together, to learn together, to work together, to solve problems together. Because we know the problems facing this next generation are not solvable unless people actually come together to work on them together.

So, I think there are a lot of arguments against this Neo-Plessy sort of vision that some people put forward and those are the two, I think that are most important. 

Andrew: Yeah. I totally agree with both of those. And I do think that second argument is important because, I mean, I think there's no question about the power of an HBCU or an all-Black church to kind of build social and political capital for Black folks, for Brown folks, for Indigenous folks. For, you know, wherever those sorts of institutions exist, they serve an important role.

And, and yet I, you know, what's the kind of, you know, 50 year, 100 year, the generational plan, if you just invest in creating more spaces like that and create more and more separation. Where do we end up 50 years from now? Where do we end up a hundred years from now? And there's an understandable tension in that long-term, but I think it is kind of solved by your second point, which is like, the only way through is together. Like, the only way that our kids and our kids' kids have, I mean, in some ways have even a planet to live on in the first place, but certainly to solve any of the other, you know, plethora of challenges, the only way that we actually do it is, is by finding each other’s shared humanity, is by doing it together.

Stefan Lallinger: That's right. And the other thing, Andrew, is that you know, kids are ready for this. Kids have been ready for this. It’s the adults who, you know, get caught up in the politics and the ideas about what a certain kind of school means for their kids' education. But kids, you know, I watch my daughter who's two go to her school every day and it's a wonderfully diverse school, but, you know, how much would I be depriving her if I only sent her to a place with other kids who look like her or came from the same background as she did? We'd have a pretty hard time. She's, I mean, because she's, her mother is of Haitian descent, I'm, you know, half Black, half White, my dad's German. So it'd be difficult to find a critical mass of people like her.

Andrew: That'd be a very, a very niche school. 

Yeah. That's a good kind of summation of the problem of the “call” of why we should be pushing for integration. And I think it is important to, like you said, kind of distinguish between true integration and desegregation efforts of the past. I think the, you know, New York City, the IntegrateNYC, the 5 Rs of Real Integration, we talk about a lot in the kind of student-led voice and those things. But I found in your writing this quote, back to a King quote that I had not come across that, you know, just, just felt so profound, where I guess in 1962, he's talking about “Desegregation is eliminative and negative because it simply removes [these] legal and social prohibitions. Integration is creative and therefore more profound and far reaching than desegregation... Integration is genuine, intergroup, interpersonal doing... Integration is the ultimate goal of our national community.”

Stefan Lallinger: That's right. I mean, every time I read Dr. King, I am astounded at both his ability to understand issues at a depth that other ordinary human beings can't, myself included, and his ability to sort of forecast the issues that we will grapple with in the future.

But also, finally his, just, optimism. You know, he's always optimistic and thinking about what is possible and how to bring the best out of humanity, particularly at a time where in our politics, it seems like it's a race to the bottom. And people are, you know, fear-mongering and trying to see the worst in each other, Dr. King always had that optimism. 

And so, I love that quote because I think he presents both the dilemma of what desegregation is, and if we just do desegregation what we could, you know, we could get as a result, but the promise of what real integration actually could be. And if we just drew the best out of ourselves and the best out of each other, what we could achieve together. So I, it's one of my favorite quotes. 

Andrew: He's optimistic without like rose-colored glasses. I think later in that same piece, he says, “despite the tremendous difficulties that integration imposes, nonetheless work towards its implementation is not to be abandoned for the sake of approximating the more accessible goal of desegregation.”

And I think that's in some ways what we did, right? Like, the failures of Brown are tied to the fact that what we did was desegregation. What we did was say, “Eh, integration is hard. Creating spaces that are welcoming for all people, that value all people, that create an environment where we can all find each other's shared humanity on equal footing, is really hard. Let's just go with desegregation because we can look at the numbers and say, yep, look at that. We've got, you know, 30% Black kids and 30% White kids” and, like, you know, wipe our hands, we're done with it. And that, kind of easy, more accessible goal of desegregation that he talks about is sort of what we did. And so it feels like now what we need to do is really move to this, this vision of integration.

Stefan Lallinger: It's absolutely right. We did the easy part and then we let people off the hook for taking the next step, in many different ways, in legal ways. And even just, you know, putting our heads down and trying to do the hard work of undertaking a project that would just so clearly benefit everybody. And, and I think that's where we missed the boat.

But it's not too late to figure out how to do this the right way. And so I think, you know, we have folks across the country who are committed to trying to reenvision schools as we know them. And so, I think that's the exciting part.

And one of the things that, you know, folks from the Bridges Collaborative always remark, which is, “I felt like I was in this alone. This is a lonely fight when you're sort of a lone warrior trying to make a change on a local level.” But then when you realize that there are hundreds and hundreds of people across the country who feel the same way that you do and who are trying different things in their own ways, that, it's a really empowering feeling. And we can lean on each other to both be able to learn things from one another, but also to be able to talk about this in ways that feel relevant and make sense in 2021 and move people to action. 

Andrew: Yeah. I mean I feel like this kind of leads us nicely into your current work, which is the Bridges Collaborative and part of The Century Foundation. What is the Bridges Collaborative? What's the kind of hope? What's the goal with it? How did you find yourself working on that?

Stefan Lallinger: So, the Bridges Collaborative was started because some folks who've been working on this issue for a very long time, colleagues of mine at The Century Foundation, saw a void out there in that, there were folks across the country who were interested in this issue or working on this issue, recognize the severity of this issue, but there wasn't really a place for them to go, to be able to hear from other people, learn about solutions, learn about things that have been tried. 

Talking specifically about practitioners here, right? Like there are certainly other fantastic organizations in the ecosystem who care about school integration. The National Coalition of School Diversity is a perfect example. But their primary focus is not on practitioners. Their primary focus is on legislative change and issuing policy briefs, so people know what's possible on the policy front. 

But if you were a practitioner, if you're a chief of enrollment in a big school district, if you are in charge of magnet schools in a district, if you're a charter leader who cares about these issues, who are you going to talk to that is going to help you address these huge issues? And who are you going to talk to to learn about things that have been tried and that have worked, or things that have been tried and haven't worked? So that was really the impetus to start the Bridges Collaborative. Let's start something for practitioners.

And then the other big thing, Andrew, I think this is a really important piece of the Collaborative is the recognition that we can't solve this issue just in education. As I alluded to earlier, a big piece of this is residential. About 75% of students across the country attend school based on where they live. And so, if where you live is segregated, where you go to school will also be segregated. And you know, oftentimes people will say, “Well, this is a housing issue. So in education, we should just focus on other things.”

Andrew: “I believe in your goals, I'm with you, but I can't do anything about it because my housing is segregated.” 

Stefan Lallinger: Yeah. “It's not my problem. So let's focus on other things.” And that's bogus, okay? It’s bogus in part because of the example that I told you in New Orleans, which is, you could also get rid of the link between where you live and where you go to school, and things would still be segregated.

So, there are things that we need to do within education. There are things that we can do in education. There's an incredible chart that I love to refer to that came from an Urban Institute report by Tomás Monarrez and his colleagues that essentially shows that there are school districts across the country that exacerbate the residential segregation that exists in their community, and there are schools districts around the country that ameliorate the residential segregation that exists in their surrounding areas, in the ways in which they draw their school zone boundaries.

And I think that's really, really instructive, because while we're doing the work in housing, which is not overnight work, this is generational work, there’s stuff we can do in education to make sure we are among those school districts that are actually, despite residential segregation, making our schools more integrated places. So I think that's a really, really important message. 

But as far as it relates to the Bridges Collaborative, where we saw the void is great people in both fields, either doing one of two things, putting their heads down and saying, “Alright, I work in education. I'm just going to try and do everything I can in education,” or the latter, which is, “I work in education, there's nothing I can do about this issue. So let me just keep working in education.” Right. 

The analogous thing happens in housing. “I work in housing. There's nothing I can do about education.” And again, these are well-intentioned people who have huge jobs in and of themselves, and so the question for us became, “How do we get these people to talk to each other? How do we get them to collaborate with one another? And how do we get them to start speaking the same language?” Because people in education and people in housing often don't speak the same language. 

And so, those were the two main goals when we started the Collaborative is: We want a hub for practitioners who are addressing segregation and housing and schools across the country. We want a venue for people in these two really important sectors to be able to get to know each other, talk to each other, and figure out how they could proactively solve some of these issues going forward. 

Andrew: And how's it going? Also, you launched it leading into a global pandemic, which adds a degree of difficulty to everything, but, you know, let’s  come out of it. What gives you hope when you look at that work?

Stefan Lallinger: That's right. We did have interesting timing. I will say that. And, actually what's interesting with the timing is the pandemic had started and we were set to launch and we said, “You know what? Let's pump the brakes on this.” And then, as we all remember, this sort of parallel phenomenon happened where, after George Floyd was murdered, you had a whole bunch of people who hadn't been talking about racial justice talking about racial justice, right?

And what coincided with that was, you know, folks who knew of our plans said, “We need this now more than ever.” Because, you know, if you're really thinking about making systemic changes that are gonna make our country more racially just, where else would you rather start than in our educational system? Right? And so you can’t have a racially just society if you have a segregated society, and certainly not if you have a segregated educational system. So, we decided to push forward knowing that most of the work that we were going to have to do for the foreseeable future would be virtual, which was not exciting to us, but the work felt too important. 

Despite all of those things, we've had a really, really positive year. The difficult piece of it is, how do we both provide the space for people to think about these things and do these really incredible things. And acknowledge that we are in unprecedented times. 

And sometimes the support that people need isn't. You don't draw a direct line between school integration and some of the support that we provide. Like right now, we're doing a series of workshops around critical race theory and how to respond to some of the things that are emerging in school board meetings across the country, because it is cannibalizing the time and the energy of people who have other really important initiatives that they need to work on. Oftentimes, off of something that is completely concocted by, you know, a set of folks who are trying to derail good work that's happening in school districts across the country. 

So sometimes our work veers into just general support during a really, really difficult time. But it's really just been a treat to be able to, you know, be in fellowship with really committed, hard working people in schools, districts, and housing organizations across the country. And I know there's a lot of good work to come, but there's already been a lot of really rich lessons that have emerged from the work. 

Andrew: Yeah. It feels like the, sort of, the perfect next step for your career. All the things that led you up to that space. It must be fulfilling to kind of be able to draw on all of your family history, your ancestral knowledge, and then your practical knowledge in running school, and, working in a place like New York City, and now kind of bringing it all together and into this work.

Stefan Lallinger: Well, it's a privilege. I mean, it is a privilege. And I tell you, I learn something new every day. We've got so many talented individuals and so many really interesting and innovative things that people are trying all across the country. So I just continue to be really excited by the work. 

Andrew: Yeah, that's great. Big picture, you know, you've got this ancestral thing that your grandfather, your parents, your family. The ways in which you, and now your own nuclear family, are kind of a vision of an integrated America of a multiracial democracy, of a place where we can all come together.

You've got a second kid who's going to be born shortly. Another one, a two year old. I think you know, probably even by now, with only a two year old, that kids are much more likely to do as we do and not as we say. As you kind of think about carrying that legacy on and the legacy you want to pass on, what do you hope your kids will see you doing? What do you want them to take away from the work that you're contributing to this legacy?

Stefan Lallinger: Gosh, that is the ultimate question. I think that is how I would really want to lead my life. First of all, you know, pray for me on the, you know, having two kids two and under. I got to get past that first, before I can start thinking, dreaming on a high level.

But, I think at the end of the day, what is really, really important to me is that both of my kids get to experience just being themselves, being who they are. And that who they are is welcomed and is affirmed and is embraced in the spaces in which they have the privilege to move. And that they have the privilege to move in spaces where they get to learn about a whole bunch of kids who want to be who they are. And that those kids are different from my kids. And so, I just hope that my kids see myself and my wife, you know, carrying out and living in our day-to-day lives and our actions, in everything from where we choose to live to where we choose to send them to school. Because, you know, we have the privilege of being able to choose, as many people do, and some people do not. To all of the choices we make about their social circle and our social circle. To the activities that they get involved in. To the ways that they dedicate their lives to bettering humanity. All of these things involve some degree of choice. And so, what I hope my daughters see is that we made a really, really specific and conscientious choices to put them in spaces to learn from other people and to be in spaces that affirm them as individuals. That's really my ultimate hope. 

Andrew: Hmm. That's beautiful. Yeah, I share those. I think that if, whatever way that I can achieve that for my kids, is a measure of a life well lived. So, really appreciate you, appreciate all the work that you do, and appreciate you taking the time to come on and share with us.

Stefan Lallinger: My pleasure. And I appreciate you, and, you know, these podcasts are incredible. You get some incredible people on here. It's a true honor to be on here and just to tune in to the work that you do. It's really incredible, so keep up the good work. 

Andrew: Thank you very much.

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Andrew: So, Val, time for takeaways.

Val: So much there. Do you have a place you want to start? 

Andrew: So one of the things that's really been sticking with me since the conversation is this question of, you know, when were you first aware of Brown and then like when were you first disillusioned by Brown? And you know this idea of Stefan as a second grader, you know, marching into school and telling all of his classmates about his family's legacy and these important issues, but not having the kind of context at that time to realize the ways that as a country we weren't actually living into the ideals of this case that his grandfather fought for.

Val: I found myself wondering, what did I think as a second grader about this country and equal rights and schooling? I'm not sure, but certainly at that point, I was already going to a racially isolated school. 

But then also I thought about how as a second grader, he was equipped with that knowledge to go and share that with his classmates. And the importance of when we talk about the generational work of us, as parents, having these conversations with our young people, right? So his family clearly did. 

And so, I think I was just super happy to hear that, right? That a second grader went in so self-assured, and like, “Here's my family history and here's what we all need to know and here's why we should be proud of who we are.” Where I'm sure some other second graders were like, I have no idea what you're talking about.

Andrew: And I have no idea like what my grandpa did or like what things my parents or my grandparents cared about as the focus of their life work. I mean, I feel like that's another piece that felt empowering to me, it feels like it must have shaped him in so many ways. It's like, at least by second grade, he had the story of his family and what things they cared about passed on to him.

Val: Yeah. Did you have that by second grade?

Andrew: Not at all. Yeah. I don't know what I knew in second grade. I mean I was in a racially segregated school. I was one of the minority students in that school, but, even given that, and this was probably like my Whiteness showing up, but like even with that, I still understood Brown v Board to be in the past, understood racism to be in the past. 

You know, I didn't make the connection between the fact that most of the kids in my school were Black and that we still lived in a society that would segregate kids, that we still lived in a society that had racism in it. And I was not like disappointed to find that, that we were not actually living up to the ideals of Brown until much later, probably high school.

Val: Yeah, that's so interesting. ‘Cause I'm thinking about my own elementary experience and how, even though we didn't talk explicitly about the failure of Brown, that we memorized Maya Angelou Still I Rise and Langston Hughes Life for me has been no crystal stair. And those were the kinds of things that we learned about and talked about. And I'm wondering if that was in some way, preparing us for the reality that outside of this space, there's still a lot that you're going to have to deal with. 

Andrew: Right. Because it was a predominantly Black space with Black teachers who were kind of like, how do we, how do we prepare you? We don't need to explicitly explain that Brown maybe didn't achieve all of the things that the people who fought for it had hoped, but also let's prepare you for the future.

Val: Yeah.

Andrew: Hmm.

Val: Which I appreciate. 

Can we talk about Black teachers for a little bit? Because that comes up. And what happens after Brown and the impact on Black teachers and the fact that tens of thousands of them were dismissed, demoted, or forced to resign as Vanessa Siddle Walker teaches us. And she said at one point, Dr. Siddle Walker said, Black educators believed in integration, but they wanted an additive model, not an exchange or compromise. 

Andrew: Yeah. Going all the way back to Dr. King, who wrote so eloquently on the difference between desegregation and integration that like what, what we did was move bodies around, what we did was remove the legal barriers without actually getting at the heart. And then, and then obviously got rid of all the Black teachers, not all, but certainly a large portion of Black teachers and Black administrators and all that expertise. And that was much easier to do. 

Val: Yeah. He mentioned W. E. B. Du Bois saying that we were placing Black students with White teachers with actively hostile ideas about Black people. And I don't know. It's painful. It feels painful. My dad who desegregated his elementary school won't talk about it, the experience.

And, you know, just to acknowledge what Stefan said about, people of color, having that right to skepticism because of what history has taught us. He talks about the historically legitimate reason to be nervous about it. I get, cause like I said, you know, it's not something my dad actively wants to remember. So there's some real healing that needs to happen, if we're gonna share space together authentically. 

Andrew: I think that's right, because I think that the harm of the story that, as a country, we told about Brown v Board is that it didn't leave that space for healing, is that it didn't acknowledge that trauma. And I think that's clearly a barrier to creating authentic spaces where everybody can show up with their full selves.

And thinking about this kind of generational piece. And I think this still so often is the case, we feel like, let's just let our kids deal with it. We'll put them in the school together and they can find each other's shared humanity and then they'll grow up and they'll be much better. Not to like undercut my generational work argument. The fact that it's generational work doesn't mean that it's like only the next generation who has. We all have to do our part.

And I think that for White Americans, it was so much easier to say like, let's just let our kids go to school together and maybe they can figure it out and we don't have to then deal with the trauma that has been caused sort of in the name of segregation.

Val: Yeah. I hear you on letting the kids fix it. And I'm wondering, are we equipping the kids to fix it, or are we just assuming that they will make the connections, right? Without taking into account their other socialization? So you don't have to actively be in anti-Black spaces to get an anti-Black vibe from the air, right?

Andrew: Right. You just have to like turn on the TV or listen to the radio.

Val: That’s it. That's it. You don't have to do anything to get that message. And so I think it's really important for us as parents to be explicit in countering those messages, right?

Andrew: Right. You know, to me, one of the benefits of the school where my kids are now is that the conversations, it doesn't just happen, I still have to like actively go and have the conversations. But it's so much easier to have when it's not theoretical, when it's about friends that they know, right? And this is something I catch myself on all the time is, I feel like, the easiest thing is to not. The easiest thing is to just be like, “yeah, they've got some Black and Brown friends. So like, my work here is done.” And it takes constant attention and intentionality to say, “Let's talk about this. Oh, you got called by the teacher to go and like test for the advanced group, the kids who need a little more challenge? Like let's talk about who else is in that group. When your friend doesn't get called for that, what do you think about that?” And kind of try to have those conversations, but yeah, it takes every day work to do it because the easiest thing is to not.

Val: Yeah, I can only speak from an observer's standpoint about the pressures of aligning with Whiteness as a White person, right? And so, you know, I'm wondering, when it gets difficult, when, you know, our children are say witnesses to some racist act against their friend that they now know and love, do they speak up or do they remain silent? I don't know. 

I saw a story today and it was horrific and it was about a school where some White students were accused of using the N word and spitting on some of the Black kids and just harassing and just being really horrific. And it was a majority White space. I think the population of the city is about 3% Black. And so there are White kids there who I'm sure aren't behaving in that way. And yet, how often do they speak up? How often do they talk to their parents about what happened at school today? This was like a kindergartener situation, right? And so it cannot only be when you have the people around you to make it easier to have the conversation, right? Because, okay, there's 2% Black people in the school. Yes, but...

Andrew: You still got to have the conversation.

Val: We still have to have the conversation, right? Because if not, then we grow up not understanding the impact.

Andrew: Yeah, to sort of come back to the last episode a bit, it's a choice that White parents can make. But like, if we are going to advance as a country, if we are going to become a multiracial democracy, White parents can't opt out.

And some part of it is in general parenting, which I feel like I'm in no place to offer any advice on, but I do feel like some of it is how do you create the relationship with your kids, such that they feel comfortable bringing it up? Such that, like you mentioned last time, your son's like, “Oh, was what I just said sexist?” That they can come to you and say like, “Hey, you know, either I saw this thing and I'm not really sure what to think about it.” Or like, “I did this thing and I'm not really sure what to think about it.” And if you can create that space where you're also still learning, and so it's okay for them to be learning, and then you're talking about it a lot, then they have the tools to actually kind of process it.

But I think so often the message that we give, that White parents give our White kids is like, don't talk about race. They see these things happen and then they internalize it and then they have no context to make any sense out of it.

Val: Yeah. I'm curious about what all of the listeners, what your children are observing, right? And I think in order to know, we have to talk to them and ask them questions about, “Hey, you know, everybody in your class being treated fairly, is there anyone that's kind of left out? Is there anything that you can do about that?” I think those are the kind of ongoing conversations we need to have in our integrated spaces, to remind folks that being in proximity isn't enough.

And I think that learning to be silent around race and racism is detrimental. And so, how do we create those spaces in our homes where we don't have to be silent about it? We can be confused about it together. As you mentioned, we can learn about it together. We can be frustrated about it together. I think those are important places to be.

You mentioned and Stefan also quoted MLK. I too have an MLK quote that I love. I think it's my favorite MLK piece. And I spent, maybe a year or so trying to read everything MLK. So, this is one that stays with me forever and probably why I agreed to do this. 

Andrew: I'm ready now. 

Val: It's from Where Do We Go From Here?

“Like life racial understanding is not something that we find, but something that we must create, what we find when we center these moral Plains and it is existence, but existence is the raw material out of which all life must be created. A productive and happy life is not something that you find. It is something that you make. And so the ability of Negroes and Whites to work together to understand each other will not be found ready-made; it must be created.”

Andrew: Hmm. Yep. 

Val: I mean, MLK dropped bars.

Andrew: No doubt. Every time I go back. Yeah, after that conversation with Stefan, I went back and found that quote was in a collection of speeches and essays called A Testament of Hope. And I'm like, you know, it's, I don't know, it's probably 600 pages of just, like, sheer brilliance.

But the thing that I, you know, I mean obviously we have lionized King in so many ways and I think probably have missed the boat in...

Val: Yeah. I was about to ask you, “Who’s we? Who's we?” 

Andrew: I'll take that one. The, you know, when you see the politicians quoting King on MLK day, and you're like, okay, that's such a tiny sliver of what he said, but the idea of when you go back and actually start digging into the words. It's, there's just so much there, and that the hope and the optimism. I think that's one of the things that I find so compelling about Stefan as well is despite being a teacher in a segregated school, sixty years after his grandfather's life work was to end school segregation, and yet, he keeps going. Like there's gotta be some hope in that.

Val: I am hopeful. I am hopeful because there are communities and podcasts like ours and, I mean, we've done much more difficult things as humans, right?

Andrew: You would think so. I mean, like putting a man on the moon.

Val: We have the internet. That, that seems way more complicated.

Andrew: There’s a super computer in my pocket.

Val: Like for real y'all, like, this is possible.

Andrew: Right.

Val: And I want us to know that it's possible and that we're, we're choosing this, knowing that it’s possible, even though it's difficult. 

Andrew: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think we have to. Because like Stefan said, the problems that our children will try to solve as a country, as a people, are far too big to be solved in isolation, are far too big to be solved with only one set of ideas or only one set of experiences. And so either we will solve it or who knows what the word is. Or...

Val: Or perish.

Andrew: Or perish.

Val: I'm pretty sure MLK said that too.

Andrew: Yep. Well, these conversations give me hope Val and I'm really grateful to you.

Val: I'm grateful that we're going to solve it all next episode.

Andrew: Yeah. 

Val: Is that a reach?

Andrew: So if you weren't going to hit that follow button, now you definitely have to, because we've got big plans for next episode!

Val: We're solving it all.

Andrew: Yep. The other thing, to add, just like a little bit of hope since we recorded that conversation, Stefan's new baby, baby Sariah, was born in early October and they are all happy and healthy.

Val: Congratulations! And when you become friends with my family, we are great babysitters.

Andrew: Well, thank you, Val. It's a honor to be in this with you as I try to know better and do better.

Val: Thank you Andrew. Until next time.