New York City is the third most segregated city for African Americans in the US and the second most segregated city for Asian Americans and Latinos. This segregation is not by accident. According to the NYC Health Department, “Since the 1600s—when NYC was established by colonization—racist policies and practices have shaped where New Yorkers live and go to school, what jobs they have and what their neighborhoods look like. Over time, these policies and practices have built on each other to create deep inequity.”
One of the best examples of discriminatory government policy is redlining. Throughout the 1930s, neighborhoods in over 239 American cities were rated on their "creditworthiness and risk.” Neighborhoods that were considered “optimal” or “good” for investment were outlined in green and blue. Neighborhoods seen to be in decline were coded yellow. Neighborhoods that were home to "foreign-born people,” "low-class whites,” and “negroes” were seen as “hazardous” and outlined in red on a map. Residents were denied home loans and redlined communities were denied investments. Over 50 years since the Fair Housing Act banned redlining, the “hazardous” warnings appear to be literally true. Decades of denying resources and opportunities have led to vast disparities in health, housing, education, exposure to pollution, violence and experiences with the criminal justice system across different zip codes in New York City.
Throughout the summer of 2019, 20 students from high schools throughout NYC examined the lasting impacts of redlining and segregation across different zip codes in the city. They received training in human rights, advocacy, photography, oral history, and spent three weeks traveling throughout the city to meet with academics, community organizers, and activists working to end segregation in housing, healthcare, the criminal justice system, and education. They also met with those most impacted by segregation to take their photos and transcribe their stories.
The summer institute culminated with the student creation of "Segregated by Design," an online photojournalism project and large-scale photo exhibit that examines the impacts of segregation across different neighborhoods in New York City including: Brownsville, Mott Haven and Melrose, Jackson Heights, East Harlem, Canarsie, Queensbridge, Williamsburg, Fordham and University Heights, and downtown Brooklyn. The exhibit was on display at Photoville 2019 from September 12-22, 2019 which was attended by over 100,000 people.
Throughout the school year, students continued to raise awareness of segregation in NYC. They presented to over 300 NYC students at Photoville Education Day in September 2019, and to UNIS students as part of UNIS-UN day in October. Theatre students used the transcripts from the oral history project to devise a play and arts students turned the transcripts into art.
The 2019-2020 project culminated on Feb.1st 2020 with a day-long symposium at UNIS on segregation. The symposium began with a presentation by Human Rights Project students, and then featured keynote speaker K. Bain of 696 Build Queensbridge, workshops led by local human rights activists working to end segregation and a play by UNIS students and EPIC theatre. All of the New Yorkers who shared their experiences of segregation with students in the summer program were invited to share once again with the wider UNIS community and to see their stories performed by the theatre students.
This year's topic was inspired by The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. It was made possible thanks to a generous grant from Teaching Tolerance.