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Transcript: The fight over race, education, and belonging in a Texas suburb

The full episode transcript for Race and Education in an American Suburb


Into America

Race and Education in an American Suburb

Trymaine Lee: In 2018 and 2019, two videos of white students saying the N-word went viral in Southlake, Texas. Back then the wealthy Dallas suburb mostly reacted with shock and outrage. The mayor and the Carroll Independent School District promised to take action and create a better environment for students of color.

Archival Recording: Racism. Discrimination. Intolerance. Exclusion. These things don't have a place in Southlake. The time is now to challenge perceptions. To talk to each other.

Lee: Then came 2020, and the Black Lives Matter movement picked up steam. And right along with it came backlash, and that backlash threatened to take over the town of Southlake.

Archival Recording: Ms. Moore, you cannot shut us up. (BEEPS) You cannot keep us quiet. Nobody has any respect for you. (APPLAUSE) You no longer get to implement your woke agenda on Carroll ISD. Racism in reverse is racism. Shame.

Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. Today we bring you a look at Southlake, a new six-part podcast from NBC News. It's a story about how a group of parents and students tried to confront racism in their schools and got steamrolled by their own community. Southlake is hosted by two of my colleagues here at NBC News, Mike Hixenbaugh, a national reporter based in Houston, and Antonia Hylton, a national correspondent based in New York.

Antonia Hylton: I have to say, Mike and I had a lot of fun actually driving around Southlake.

Lee: And before we get into the heart of the story, we have to understand Southlake.

Hylton: I kept remarking that it reminded me of what I had seen on shows like The Real Housewives where I was, like, "Oh, there are people who go home after school every day to a castle." (LAUGH) I just, I didn't know, you know, that there are people regularly livin' like that.

And we would drive through these insane neighborhoods with estates named things like The Blessing. They have a pristine, immaculate downtown shopping center that people call Town Square that, you know, looks like something out of a magazine. It has a fountain, multiple fountains spraying cool water into the hot Texas air. And, you know, you can see how someone would come through this town or first move to this community and just be blown away.

Lee: I know so much of this podcast kinda orbits around the schools basically. Describe the schools for us.

Mike Hixenbaugh: The schools are called the Carroll Independent School District, and parents talk about the school system like it's a private school education at a public school price. And for a long, long time this was a suburban community that was overwhelming white.

Over the last couple of decades, it's grown not just in population but in diversity like a lot of Texas suburbs. The school system went from being 80% white students to now more, like, 63% white students with a big influx of students of Latino and South Asian descent.

It's one of these public schools where there is no achievement gap. The students all perform incredibly. There's 100% graduation rate almost every year, and basically the entry fee to get into the school system is being able to afford a house in Southlake.

And we talked with so many families of color who wanted that for their kids, 'cause what parent, I'm a dad, what parent doesn't want the best possible education for their kid? And so what you hear play out in this series are these families who come to town wanting the best for their children and thinking they've done it for them.

And now they're looking back and reflecting differently, because there's been this kind of slow, daily assault of seemingly small comments that adds up to this trauma over the years, leaving parents now feeling something like regret, even though they were trying to do good.

Lee: Let's talk about Robin Cornish. I know that you guys have talked to a bunch of Black families in Southlake, and Robin Cornish's story really stands out and seems to kind of exemplify what so many families have gone through. Antonia, tell me about Robin.

Hylton: So Robin Cornish is now a nurse and a flight attendant. She grew up in a Black family that was pretty affluent, but she grew up around Black folks.

Hixenbaugh: Her husband was an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys in the early '90s when they were winnin' Super Bowls.

Hylton: And they're looking for a place to put their roots down, and a Realtor shows them Southlake, which at the time is, like, Robin describes it as this place of back dirt roads where she's, like, "What am I doin' here?" (LAUGH) But her husband convinces her, you know, "This is a new place, we're gonna put our roots down."

Robin Cornish: He was, like, "If you're happy, I'm happy." I'm thinking, "Oh my God," you know, I'm from Chicago, I'm a city girl. But this is my husband and what he wanted, so I wanted to compromise. Was I thrilled with it? No.

Hylton: And what, you know, ends up happening is she sends her five children through the school system, and they're smart, they get a great education. Many of them join teams and clubs in the school, but they also start to hear a consistent flow of racist and hostile remarks.

Hixenbaugh: She told the story about how her oldest child in sixth grade was told at lunch, "Hey Frankie, how do you get a Black out of a tree?"

Cornish: He's, like, "What?" He's, like, "How do you get a Black out of a tree?" He was, like, "What?" He said, "You cut the rope." So he comes home and tells us about this, and Frank is, like, "Oh no."

Hixenbaugh: There was the time her kid was celebrating Colonial Day, a day for Carroll Elementary School kids to dress up like people from the 16 and 1700s in America. But, you know, Robin's, like, "They weren't thinking about what that meant for Black kids who would have been alive in 16 and 1700s."

Cornish: So she said, "I'm gonna be a nurse." And the kids said, "Oh, you can't be a nurse. You have to be a slave, 'cause you were a slave back then."

Hylton: At the time, they're sort of seen as these one-off incidents. And that's a pattern you hear Black parents in Southlake describe. But every time these comments came up, the comment is itself treated as this one moment in time that requires an investigation and response, but not as seen as indicative of what's going on in the larger culture.

Cornish: And I'm, like, "I'm disappointed in me, because why did I expect more?" Or once again my naivete, did I do a disservice to my kids so much or give a pass on a lotta stuff because I was trying to do, you know, better for my kids.

Hylton: Many Black families in town say that their kids have heard similarly racist comments, and there are Black parents with students at all grade levels who are kinda nodding along.

Lee: In this situation, you had all of this murmuring of tension, right, for many, many years that people were kinda either dealing with because of the quality of the schools or for whatever reason. But then there's an incident that happens, and it goes viral. Break down what happened for us.

Hixenbaugh: This story really started at the homecoming dance in 2018, and we talked with several students who were at the dance that night. And this is a scene that plays out at high school dances in the suburbs all over the country probably every year. The DJ was playing radio edits of popular songs, including some that had explicit lyrics in them, including some that had the N-word.

But what students describe hearing is all of these white students from the dance floor jubilantly singing along, and they're singing out the N-word. And no one does anything to stop it. It goes on throughout the night. But what happened afterward is what really set this thing off.

Because a group of those students went to an after party, and they climbed onto a bed at some friend's house. They recorded themselves not repeating the lyric but chanting the N-word in a sort of call and response. "I say first half of the word, you say the rest of it," and then they chant it together.

They posted that video on Snapchat, and one of their people who saw that message grabbed a copy before it disappeared and posted it on Twitter. And then it exploded. It went viral, drawing millions of views across the country and forcing the district and the town to confront this, to look at it.

Lee: Wow. They felt so emboldened and they had such a lack of concern about any kind of response that they put this out there on social media. But there was a response. Let's talk about what happened after the video goes viral. Like, what was the response from parents, the schools? Like, what went down after? Because this was a lightning rod moment.

Hylton: Well, initially there's this kumbaya moment where everyone in town is, like, you know, "This is not who we are. Southlake's going to come together and condemn this and address this." Even conservative white parents in the community go to, you know, these brews with dads and coffee and conversation events that happen to try to bring the community together to have a dialogue about this.

And even they are coming forward saying things, like, "You know, racism is real and we have to address this." And for a while parents like Robin Cornish are actually really heartened by that. They're, like, "Great, okay, so we're going to do something." An idea comes together to create this diversity council, a group of about 63 volunteer parents and community leaders, a couple students.

And they're charged with a task of coming up with a diversity plan for the school system. And for almost two years, they spend time crafting a plan that then gets presented to Southlake School Board. And while that crafting process is happening, for most of that time, there are either members of the community that aren't involved or aren't paying attention, or there's pretty widespread support.

Lee: But the drama doesn't end there. Another video. What happened next?

Hixenbaugh: So in the early spring semester of 2019, so just months after the first video, another one gets posted, this one showing a carful of white students, couple of whom were students at Carroll in Southlake yelling the N-word. The news reports from the time said that they were singing along to a song. But again, it led to headlines in the Dallas area, so that just added fuel to the energy behind doing something in the school district to confront this stuff.

Lee: So you have these really big moments, but I know you all talked to students and families who say that they've been experiencing some degree of this stuff for a very long time. And there's a young woman you all talk to by the name of Raven. Talk to us about Raven.

Hylton: So Raven Rolle is a junior at the University of Kentucky. But she went through the Carroll school system in Southlake for most of her time in education. She moved there at a young age. One of her earliest memories is, you know, being on the playground and a group of girls saying they couldn't play with her, you know, matter of factly because her skin was brown.

Raven Rolle: And just, like, little things like that happened a lot growing up. A lot had to do with, like, my hair. I hated my hair.

Hylton: But over time, it builds and it builds, and she gets confidence actually to start reporting incidents of racism. She kinda becomes known in school as someone who, like, will hear the N-word said and will march over to the principal's office and try to do something about it.

Lee: So Raven, you know, she's known as this person who will stand up and will report these incidents, which sounds crazy that it happens enough where people know that she will go and say somethin'. But there was one incident in particular that really struck her.

Hixenbaugh: So this incident takes place just weeks after that second viral video, and Raven's in her class, and she overhears one of her white classmates using the N-word. And important context here. While adults in Southlake at this time were saying that they were gonna do something and taking racism seriously, a number of white students at Carroll were making arguments in school that this was all overblown. And the crux of it was, you know, "If Black people can use the N-word and, like, sing it in rap songs, why are white kids getting punished for it?" And so in class one day, Raven overhears a kid using the word while making that argument.

Rolle: I told my teacher, I was, like, "I'm just gonna go report this really quick. I'll be back."

Hixenbaugh: And soon thereafter, the complaint landed on the desk of principal Shawn Duhon who's a white man. He's been the principal of the high school for several years at this point, and he decides to just, you know, bring both the kids down to his office, sit 'em down, and let's hear what's going on here. And it's at that point that Raven, who's made these kind of complaints multiple times, who's begun to lose a little faith that the system's gonna do something slips her phone out of her pocket and secretly hits record.

Rolle: So how, if that's your opinion on the word--

Male Student: No, but I don't use it.

Rolle: No, no, let me finish. If that's your opinion on the word, which you did use in the sentence when you were explaining it, then why would you lie about saying it today?

Male Student: Well, 'cause I don't, that's not, like, in my vocabulary--

Rolle: You do use the word though. It is in your vocabulary, 'cause I've heard you say it multiple times.

Male Student: Oh, well, I disagree but.

Rolle: It's not a disagree. It's not, you can't disagree. You said it. It's a fact.

Male Student: I mean, maybe during that conversation, but not in the way that you're saying--

Rolle: You said it during the conversation, and I've heard you say it multiple times outside of that conversation.

Male Student: Well, I don't recall saying it outside--

Rolle: So how are you gonna look at me in my face and tell me that you didn't do that? Are you callin' me crazy or something--

Male Student: 'Cause no, I literally do not recall saying that--

Rolle: You no, okay, you don't recall what happened?

Male Student: Well, to me it's just a word, so it doesn't offend me--

Rolle: It's not just a word, don't even say that.

Duhon: Yeah.

Rolle: Do you know what that means? How are you gonna look at me in my face--

Duhon: Hold on Raven.

Rolle: And tell me that that is just a word? Do you know how disrespectful that is?

Male Student: To me, it's just a word.

Rolle: No, it's not just a word.

Duhon: Yeah, it's not.

Rolle: That is a racial slur. I can't even believe you would just say that to me.

Duhon: Raven.

Rolle: I'm not gonna calm down.

Duhon: Oh, just relax.

Rolle: I cannot deal with this ignorance.

Duhon: Just relax.

Male Student: There's no words that offend me.

Rolle: 'Cause you're white.

Male Student: What does that have to do with anything--

Rolle: That's why. I'm Black, and I have to go to school in this white school and listen to y'all say that, and you're gonna tell me it's just a word?

Male Student: I, it doesn't.

Rolle: It's not just a word.

Lee: To hear the emotion in her voice and hear her begin to cry, and to hear this white boy say "it's just a word," I can't imagine what Raven was going through in that moment.

Hylton: This moment is always hard for me to listen back to, even though I've now listened to it several times. And I want to say, you know, Mike and our team reached out to Duhon for comment. He declined to comment about this audio. You can hear Raven's heart breaking.

You can hear Raven losing patience and losing faith in that audio. And I think that many Black students will hear this and relate to it, or maybe even be brought back to conversations they've had in school themselves. You have to remember though, this is a 17-year-old girl who is just spontaneously standing up for herself, because she can see and sense if she doesn't do it, no one's gonna do it for her.

So you can almost see how she feels like she's being driven crazy, and wow, I was blown away when I first heard this, just at this 17-year-old's ability to articulate things that adults sometimes barely can. And just at her strength standing up for herself.

Lee: Raven's recording didn't end there. After the boy is sent out of the office, the recording continues with Principal Duhon and Raven. Let's take a listen.

Duhon: When you see ignorance like that, you can't let them take your joy, girl. You can't. You're too good of a girl, you're too good of a person for somebody like that.

Rolle: I try. That's why I didn't say anything the first few times--

Duhon: Well, no. He doesn't get it. He doesn't understand. So don't let somebody like that take away your joy. Don't let, I want to use a few other words, but I can't. You're too pretty, you're too nice, everything you got goin' on for you, you can't let somebody like that take your joy, right, take your peace. I don't want you to do anything to jeopardize you and your person and your integrity and your character.

Lee: You know, to hear that tape is heartbreaking on so many levels. To hear Raven still in tears, she's lookin' for someone to support her, someone to have her back. But Duhon's, I don't even have the word to describe, but, like, "Girl, don't you worry about it."

That the anti-Blackness is so baked in that the responsibility continues to fall on not just Black people but Black children. And I know so many Black people in this country can relate to being in spaces and institutions that really aren't there to support you and in fact hoist the burden of resolving your own pain and discomfort and your wounds and trauma onto you.

Hylton: That's absolutely a theme throughout this series, and you hear time and again from folks like Raven and other students, Black students, LGBTQ students, and you see that in Duhon's comment about Raven's appearances, as though somehow the fact that she is a beautiful person should insulate her from racial violence. And it's very clear, because this incident happened now years ago or a couple years ago, that that didn't work for Raven.

Lee: We reached out to the Carroll Independent School District about Raven's experience and her recording. The principal in the recording, Shawn Duhon left Carroll at the end of last school year, so a representative for the district declined to comment on his actions.

The representative said the district has quote, "worked diligently expanding our safety and security programs to ensure that every child feels valued, safe and secure." Mike and Antonia also reached out to the unnamed boy in Raven's recording. He did not comment.

We do know that Shawn Duhon rearranged the schedule so the boy and Raven would no longer share a classroom, but we don't know if he was ever disciplined. When we come back, how Raven has been thinking about her time at Southlake since she graduated, and how her experience in Texas is representative of schools around the country. We'll be right back.

Lee: In the second episode of Southlake, Mike and Antonia sit down with Raven, and they talk about how she's doing today.

Rolle: I'm an adult now, and I'm still talking about something that happened to me three years ago. Just not fair.

Lee: Here's Antonia again.

Hylton: You know, it's still hard on her. She has channeled the rage that you hear in that audio into activism. Even though she's graduated, she's still closely connected to students of color who go to Carroll. She's actively involved in a group called SARC, which is, you know, Southlake's anti-racism student organization.

So in that sense, she's still living with this. I mean, it's an active part of her daily experiences and what has sort of propelled her into the work that she does now. But, you know, of course what always belies that strength is just innumerable experiences that the person wishes they never had to go through.

Lee: Now Antonia, in the podcast, you talk a lot about how you can relate to some of the experiences of these Black students. Talk to us about how some of your experiences growin' up parallel that of what some of these students went through.

Hylton: Definitely. This reporting project really brought me back in time to being in middle school and to being in my high school in a community outside of Boston that's not that different from Southlake. I mean, Boston and Massachusetts are of course culturally different from Texas.

But when it comes to the dynamics of a majority white school where there's perhaps some growing diversity, or in my case there were students of color being bussed in from Boston communities. And, you know, honestly I found growing up in a town like that to be pretty lonely at times.

I have a memory that reminded me of Raven's experience in principal Duhon's office of, you know, being at a party with all white kids and a girl in my grade walking up to a group that I was in saying, "S'up N-words," with a hardy har. And this was a girl who was notoriously known for throwing the N-word around like it was, you know, "Buddies" or something.

And she did that, and I looked around at all the girls sitting with me, and no one would meet my gaze. No one would look me in the eye, and then nobody stood up to her. And that dynamic makes you feel crazy. I mean, by the time I graduated, I at times felt crazy there and was so excited to leave (LAUGH) my high school.

And so I can relate, you know, to some of what these kids are talking about. And I can relate to what that does to your self-confidence. You know, it took me a long time to feel good about myself after graduating from that school. I had to start rebuilding my self-confidence throughout college, and if I'm being honest, still now as an adult post education I grapple with that all the time.

Lee: Mike, I want to ask you this. Obviously, as Black people we're experiencing education and culture and the suburbs and all these things differently than you would. And I wonder, in your reporting of this as a white man and a white parent, what have you reflected on? How has this kind of maybe shifted or hardened your thoughts or loosened your thoughts in some ways?

Hixenbaugh: It's a great question. So I went to a very different school system in a very different community than Antonia. I grew up in a rural town in Northeast Ohio where practically everybody was white. When I went off to school at a public university in Akron where it wasn't that way, there were people of all different cultures, races and ethnicities, and I struggled for years to know how to interact appropriately.

And when I first go to working with Antonia on this project, I made a comment, like, "Man, I can't believe the types of things that people have said to kids in this school district." And she was, like, "I can. Duh. Like, this is not surprising stuff."

And I think what I noticed when we even talked with white students who came out of Southlake and who had a similar experience than I did, and I talked with one white Carroll graduate who is looking back on this now saying, "Oh my God, what did I do?"

She had a good friend who was Black, one of the few Black kids in her grade. This Black student was, you know, very smart, did very well in school and came from an affluent house. And so this white friend would always joke, "Ha, ha, ha, you're the whitest Black girl I know."

And she would say it all the time. And now she looks back on that, like, "Why didn't someone stop me? I wish I knew better. I hurt her." And she's looking back now and saying, "I went to one of the best schools in Texas. Why didn't my school teach me differently?"

Lee: I want to talk about Southlake in the context of this so-called racial reckoning that we've been going through. I use that loosely 'cause are we actually reckoning with race? There needs to be a different word, a lighter word, but reckoning like this talking we've been doing. And what happens, like, in the context of Southlake? Raven is off at college. You know, when that recording was made it was 2019, but then 2020 happens. How did all of that play out in Southlake?

Hylton: Well, the real person who brought the racial reckoning to Southlake is a Black student who just graduated this spring named Nikki Olaleye. So she is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. Nikki moved to Southlake right before the start of her freshman year.

She describes her early days at Southlake as isolating, and by the time she reached her senior year, which is when, you know, Mike and I got to meet her, she had channeled all of that into being really a person on the front lines of this fight.

And in the summer of the racial reckoning after George Floyd has been murdered, she decides that she's going to put on a Black Lives Matter rally. And as soon as it's announced, some of the white community members in Southlake start to panic. People post about, you know, getting ammo and putting their guns out on their porch. And mind you, this is a 17-year-old Black girl who's part of the school system and has lived in the community. But Nikki's able to put on this rally successfully.

Nikki Olaleye: My concern lies with the future generation, our youngest students, class of 2023. I don't want them to have to go through a school system that will strip them of their identity or make them feel less than their full potential. (SHOUT) We fight so that our children won't have to feel the same we do now, unsafe and unheard. (CHEERS)

Hylton: And she's blown away.

Olaleye: Absolutely nothing went wrong. It was not violent, it was extremely peaceful. And we ended up having an attendance of over a thousand people of, like, all ages, races, and nationalities from all over the place, not just Southlake.

Lee: And I have to ask, with all that good energy and the turnout and the supporters, unlikely allies or likely allies, did anything ultimately change in the schools?

Hixenbaugh: Listen to Southlake, available now. I'm sorry. (LAUGHTER) Well, so what happened after that rally is the conservatives were paying attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, and that Donald Trump was on TV saying that "Antifa's comin' to your suburbs. Joe Biden's gonna let 'em do it."

And so the community was very engaged at the same time as the school board's debating back-to-school mask policies, and everyone's paying attention. And there's this tension, and that is the moment when Southlake Carroll school system unveiled its plan to address racism in the most politically volatile summer in the city's history.

And it ignited a backlash that we're now seeing not just in Southlake but across the country. Conservative parents got organized very quickly. They raised, you know, more than $200,000 within weeks. They posted a website calling the diversity plan an "attempt to indoctrinate children with liberal beliefs." The community rose up in a way that was even more fierce and loud than what you saw from the Black community and the progressives in town after the viral video. And so that's kinda where this story takes off last fall.

Lee: Let's talk about this plan for a second though. You know, what are some of the details of this plan? How quote-unquote "radical" was it? And I'm only imagining that it's not like there were all these liberal Democratic Socialists on the school board who were making these decisions on what the plan was going to be.

Hixenbaugh: I'll just rattle through it. The plan called for new diversity and inclusion training for teachers and students. It called for looking at changes to the curriculum to implement and kind of weave in these kinds of lessons throughout student's lifetime at Carroll, not just at high school but even younger.

It talked about setting up a system to track and document reported incidents of microaggressions. And it talked about hiring a diversity and inclusion director at the administrative level to oversee this across all of the district. I will say the one detail that everyone kept clinging onto was the idea of microagressions being something that is in the eye of the beholder.

It can be unintentional, and conservative parents were up in arms about the idea that you're going to track these. That was the real radical thing. And then the way parents started to describe the plan took on a life of its own. "They're creating a diversity police to punish and shame kids.

"They're gonna create this curriculum to shame white students. They're gonna teach Black kids that they are all victims, and that all white students are oppressors." These words aren't in the plan. There's no language like that in there, but that is the fear that takes hold of this community.

Lee: Wow. I know we have some tape. Let's take a listen.

Archival Recording: This training is a form of segregation as it divides people by their race. This is inherently segregation that you're allowing. (APPLAUSE) You no longer get to implement your woke agenda on Carroll ISD. Racism in reverse is racism. Shame.

Hylton: Literally Mike and I have been in school board meetings in Southlake where parents say things like this, and you can see the Black parents in the back of the room, like, eyes rolling so deep in the back of their head you don't know that they'll ever come back. (LAUGH)

Like, how it's been described to us is, like, what they're seeing are these white parents react to this plan and critique it while coopting some of the language of Black struggle, you know. Like, they are kind of turning this plan back on them. You know, Black people who actually know something about segregation being told that something they're asking for is segregation. That's an interesting dynamic that they feel is designed to silence them.

Hixenbaugh: There's a lot of quoting of MLK at the meetings as well.

Lee: I get all the MLK immediately.

Hixenbaugh: You know where that's going, right.

Lee: You know, one thing I know, and these stories can be very prickly politically especially, right? And I know that one of the major tenets of journalism is, like, try not to become the story, right? That must've been extraordinarily difficult in a place like Southlake where this story and these issues have been weaponized. How did y'all deal with all this, and was there any way to avoid becoming a footnote or a, you know, page or a sonnet in the story?

Hylton: I don't think it was gonna be possible to avoid. When Mike and I did things as simple as just quoting what people said themselves at a school board meeting, you know, we were treated like it was fake news. You know, at one point Mike and I were accused of maybe working with a PR firm hired by the school to try to promote the diversity plan, when again we had just reported what people had said themselves.

You know, they refused to speak to us, but they're comfortable going on Tucker Carlson. You know, you can't be that surprised when the attacks become personal and nasty. I'll let Mike talk about this, but there have been some good nicknames for him that I plan to use (LAUGH) going forward. My personal favorite is Mike Fictionbaugh. (LAUGH) That's how I see Mike now--

Lee: Oh, that definitely gotta be in your bio somewhere. No that definitely gotta be.

Hylton: Yeah, Mike Fictionbaugh.

Hixenbaugh: Nothing but respect. Yeah, nothing but respect for that commenter--

Hylton: Such a good ring to it. (LAUGH)

Hixenbaugh: That's been kind of the theme throughout. You know, our photos get posted on social media when we're coming to town. You know, 'cause we're reaching out to so many people saying, "Hey, we're coming to town this week. We'd really love to speak with you. We're trying to hear from people."

And we don't get a response, but then we get a social media post detailing our travel itinerary, and "Look out for these people. Please don't talk to them. They're gonna make you look like you're a member of the KKK." So that's been a challenge. It's hard.

Lee: Is there anything in this reporting that has given you any sense of hope or optimism that we'll see our way through all of the nonsense? Again I know your job is as reporters, we just report. But kind of unpeeling here, what gives you hope?

Hylton: I think I can say this very objectively through my reporting is that kids in Southlake are really smart kids of all backgrounds. You know, these kids, they read the news, they listen to podcasts. They are in conversation with each other, and when they are in conversation with each other, they are so much kinder to each other than the adults are.

Now that's not say that kids aren't enacting emotional harm at these schools, because again that's a huge part of our reporting, right? But overall, when the kids actually come face to face for conversation, they're kinder to each other. And they seem more open to learning.

And I think that gives me hope that there is a future for this country where people are going to be able to talk about these messy conversations around race and education and belonging and isolation. And they'll be able to do it with more empathy in a kinder tone, and maybe reach better solutions.

Lee: Right. Well, hopefully the world makes room for Raven and Nikki. I know they'll be making room themselves, and they've done a tremendous job down there advocating on behalf of themselves and the community. Antonia, Mike, thank you very much for your time. This is an amazing story, great reporting, and I'm glad you all were here to join us. Thank you very much.

Hixenbaugh: Thank you.

Hylton: Trymaine, thank you for having us. I've been a big fan of Into America, so I'm glad I'm now a guest too. Thank you.

Lee: Antonia Hylton and Mike Hixenbaugh are cohosts of the new NBC podcast Southlake. Episodes one and two are out now. New episodes out Mondays, so be sure to subscribe. And if you want to send me your reactions or tell me about a story going on in your town, you can tweet me @TrymaineLee, that's @TrymaineLee, my full name, or write to us at

That was intoamerica@nbc and the letters U-N-I-dot-com. Into America is produced by Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Bryson Barnes, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Aisha Turner, and Lushik Wahba. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Special thanks to Frannie Kelley and Reid Cherlin of the Southlake podcast team for their help on this episode. I'm Trymaine Lee. See you next Thursday.