Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I am from Nashville TN. I think I am one of the few people who is actually originally from here. People I meet are always surprised to hear that I was actually born in Nashville and not a transplant. I went to high school at Hillwood High, and so did my mom and dad. My mom has told me stories about her junior year of high school when Hillwood desegregated and African-American kids started attending school there. When I went to school there, there was racial tension sometimes, and a lot of fights (usually not racially motivated). Hillwood is in the center of a few suburbs in Nashville- Belle Meade (average household income about $200,000), and West Meade (upper middle class suburb) and Bellevue (upper/middle to middle class families). All three of these areas are almost all Caucasian and fairly homogeneous.

Hillwood buses kids, though, from North Nashville, which is a historic area for African Americans in Nashville. North Nashville is almost entirely black. Historic Jefferson Street along with Fisk University and Tennessee State University are all located in North Nashville. North Nashville is also has one of the worst reputations for crime and gang activity. Much of it coming out of a Public Housing known as Dodge City (where rapper Young Buck claims as his roots).

I have an affinity and special relationship with the community of North Nashville. My family heritage is rooted in that particular community. My grandfather is originally from the neighborhood and had a restaurant which later turned into a hardware store on Buchanan Street that has served the neighborhood since the early 1950's. My dad is still in the neighborhood.

Our public school system in Davidson County is rezoning our school system in order for students to be able to attend the schools that are in their own neighborhood. So in essence the kids from North Nashville who have been bussed to Hillwood since the 1970's will be attending schools in their own neighborhood. Many will be able to walk to school for the first time ever.

I like the idea of kids staying in their own neighborhoods, where parents can feel like they are a part of their child's education school community. But I am also scared by this move. I am afraid that embedded racism and prejudice from people in our county is what is motivating this move to neighborhood schools.

According to an article in the Nashville Post:

The most contested portion of the plan recommends that students no longer be
bused from low-income MetroCenter neighborhoods to Bellevue’s more affluent
Hillwood cluster. Students in those neighborhoods are considered residents of
“choice zones” and can choose whether to attend school close to home or at
Hillwood schools.

Opponents of the rezoning plan have called this a "re-segregation" plan. And using the families who make up the Hillwood cluster it wouldn't be too hard to see why people might view it this way. I personally like the idea of neighborhood schools, but I also know that its important for children to all have equal access to resources and to be in relationships with other kids who are different from them.

What I would propose is reverse school zoning- to send half of the kids from neighborhoods like Belle Meade to inner city schools and then vice versa. Now that sounds fair to me.




Theresa Coleman said...


I am so glad to see you blogging -- more often than every two or three months.

Around here it's becoming more of a reaction against gas prices... our economy stinks.

Jonathon said...

That's actually a pretty descent point. And it feels great to be blogging again. I think my fire is rekindling.

TN Rambler said...

I have vivid memories of the desegregation order in '70-'71 (I was in Jr High at the time in Franklin). The effects included white flight from Davidson County and a rise in "Christian" private schools.

I think you have good reason to be concerned with the rezoning. We like to think that we have overcome racism. However, it doesn't seem to take too much of an effort on the part of the fear and hate-mongers in our midst before the specter of racism rears its ugly head once again.

I echo Theresa's comment. I've missed your voice in the conversation.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I know this post is almost exactly 3 years late, but I just now found Jonathon's blog. As a graduate of Hillwood in the early 2000's, I can say with certainty that the 2009 rezoning was not a fuel price issue though the press lauded prices as factor. Jonathon is spot-on in stating that certain areas of North Nashville have historically been bussed to Hillwood and that some of those areas have higher crime rates and gang-related activity. The issue at the heart of the 2009 rezoning was actually the 2000 and 2001 rezoning laws. Those laws actually bussed additional kids from other North Nashville areas into the Hillwood cluster putting the high school at over 100% capacity and approaching 70% African-american. More importantly, those laws forced rival gang members and rival neighborhoods to be in the same room at the same time and only a spark was needed to ignite the explosion. Just Google ‘Hillwood gang fight’ to find any number of articles from local media between 2003 and 2008. Parents were outraged, teachers were leaving for Williamson County schools, and the academic quality of the cluster was deteriorating quickly. There is no politically correct way for the school board or Metro Council to state that all of those things were caused by bussing more kids from North Nashville into the cluster, and nobody wanted to be held accountable for past mistakes, so fuel prices and neighborhood schools were the 2009 public patsy. To this point, I agree with the 2009 rezoning and I applaud those who proposed the changes.

To the much debated and very heated topic of segregation, or ‘taking all the black kids out of Hillwood’ as I remember one angry opponent stating it; I’ll submit that Hillwood, and many thousands of other schools like it, are segregated and have been segregated despite the public’s best effort to legislate otherwise. Though it may appear to be from the outside looking in, it’s NOT a racial segregation, but a demographic segregation and an intellectual segregation. For example, smart kids (regardless of race) are in the same classes and often those classes are grouped geographically within the campus, what appears to be racial segregation is a by-product. Kids that grew up together (again, regardless of race), hang out together. Kids from West Meade hang out together, kids from Bellevue hang out together, and kids from North Nashville hang out together. There is some mixing, but for the large part this holds true. It isn’t about race, but by and large those neighborhoods have very distinct demographics and some people only see the cover of the book.

To Jonathon’s point about bussing Belle Meade kids to North Nashville, I laughed. This would be absolutely hilarious! But in a city that has a very high ratio of private to public schools, those busses would be largely empty.