When Atlantic magazine correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote his article, The Case for Reparations, he sought out to tell the history of the North Lawndale neighborhood, to educate readers and encourage critical thinking among the masses. What he didn’t expect was for his piece to be used as a teaching tool and the premise for senior projects at North Lawndale College Prep (NLCP).
For their senior projects, students are researching the state of the black community; with each student posing their own individual question to further explore. NLCP AP English Professor Luke Anderson says he gave some of his senior students’ copies of Coates’ article to read, to further help them with their research, and now he can’t get them to stop talking about it.
“They would come back to me with all these questions,” said Anderson. “It was a great way to start a conversation about their community and their heritage. And we [teachers] love seeing our students engaged.”
Anderson says the reaction from his students has been both shocked and surprised.
“They were both shocked and surprised that this community used to be a majority wealthy white community. But to hear black families were literally having their money stolen from them, due to ignorance and certain practices, makes them angry and confused.”
He also said that not every student agreed with Coates and his case for reparations. And one of those seniors is Charles Donegan.
“He’s not necessarily blaming black people for all the decades of loss that they had,” said Donegan. “I see it both ways; it’s kind of our fault and society’s.”
Destiny Bradford doesn’t see it that way.
“I believe it was racial,” she said. “Why would you not inform people on what they’re really paying or why they’re paying it; or even the definition of mortgage? I think it was ignorant of the homeowners or landlords to do so to the blacks, because they knew they were not informed on what a mortgage really was.”
For their senior projects, Donegan will be exploring ways on how to improve the west side of Chicago. Bradford is researching the question, “Does the slave mentality still exist in today’s society through wanting reparation, through asking America to apologize for what they did?” A question which she posed to Coates.
“You are necessarily depending on someone else, you do have to ask,” Coates said. “You are a minority in this country, and what that means is the loss of some amount of power. I can’t see African-Americans in this country rising just through force of will on their own. There are going to have to be some events outside of our control happening. That’s just really, really hard to absorb. I wouldn’t call it a slave mentality; what I would call it is a realistic mentality about the country you live in.”
Both Donegan and Bradford said they found Coates inspiring, and his article extremely helpful for their senior projects.
But using The Case for Reparations as a teaching tool won’t just end with the senior class. Anderson is also head of the sophomore teaching team, and he says next semester all 200-plus sophomores will be reading the entire article as a part of their project answering the question, “Why is Chicago the way it is?”