When education reporter Kristina Rizga first swept through the double doors at San Francisco’s Mission High School in 2009, she fully expected to see the telltale signs of failure and despair. After all, three-quarters of its students came from poor families, and 38 percent were English language learners from more than 40 countries. They had posted some of the worst test scores in the nation, making Mission High a prime candidate for major restructuring or even closure. But Rizga discovered something entirely different. Despite these great odds, the students were not only learning, but thriving.
The scar on Russell Contreras’s cheek comes from his high school days, when he tried to help a white classmate escape a pummeling. His school in Houston, Texas, had been integrated in the 1970s, and one unfortunate byproduct was a campus ritual called “white day”—the day that black and Hispanic kids would randomly pick on white classmates and punch them. Thus, for all its good intentions, school desegregation in Houston had backfired in a sad way. While the campus was integrated, there hadn’t been enough attention paid to how the students learned the larger life lesson of how to live, study and work together.
On Monday morning, I joined hundreds of family members, friends, journalists and funders in mourning the death of Dori J. Maynard, the president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and an unflinching critic of the news media’s treatment of African Americans and other minority groups. She passed away on Feb. 24 from lung cancer at the age of 56. Later that night, I conjured Dori’s spirit, values and teachings to help students in my media class at San Francisco State University understand the need to promote diversity in journalism.