The Final Exam

It's February 2020, and Warner Elementary's star is rising. It's showing so much progress this year that it might be able to go from one of the lowest performing schools in Tennessee to one of the best. Now it's just time to hunker down and work until the big state test at the end of the year. But we all know what happens next. First, a natural disaster in Nashville. Then, a global pandemic. And at a school with low-income students, these challenges hit especially hard. "I'm tired of fighting for kids. One person can't consistently carry that burden," Warner principal Ricki Gibbs said. "I was at a point where I was going to say, 'You can have Warner. This is too much.'" In this dramatic final episode of Season 2, crisis brings Warner's challenges to a breaking point. The Promise is written and produced Meribah Knight. Edited by Emily Siner, with additional editing by Anita Bugg, Tony Gonzalez, Samantha Max, Sergio Martinez-Beltran and Damon Mitchell. Fact-checking and research by Sam Zern. Advising for this season by Savala Nolan Trepczynski and Alex Kotlowitz. Mixing by Jakob Lewis of Great Feeling Studios. The music is by Blue Dot Sessions.

The Recruitment Divide

There was a time when the decision of where to send your child to school was relatively simple: public or private. Now, in Nashville and many other cities, those choices have multiplied exponentially. In large part, it's because of white families — a way to keep them in the public system, but on their own terms. But with so many choices at play, things have gotten messy. Judgement is cast. Pedagogy is ruthlessly ranked. Gossip and chatter steer decision making. And information begins to splinter. In this episode, we follow two mothers whose experiences in choosing a school couldn't be more different. The Promise is written and produced Meribah Knight. Edited by Emily Siner, with additional editing by Anita Bugg, Tony Gonzalez, Samantha Max, Sergio Martinez-Beltran and Damon Mitchell. Fact-checking and research by Sam Zern. Advising for this season by Savala Nolan Trepczynski and Alex Kotlowitz. Mixing by Jakob Lewis of Great Feeling Studios. The music is by Blue Dot Sessions.

A Reckoning

Last fall, parents from Lockeland Elementary held a community meeting to talk about the elephant in the room: Despite the diversity of the neighborhood, their school was the whitest school in the entire district. Some white parents in the neighborhood simply didn't see any problem. Others did and wanted the district to find a solution that would bring more children of color to their school. But there was a time, not that long ago, when an idea was floated that could have changed the makeup of Lockeland's student body — and it did not go well. In this episode, white parents start to realize that their choices, and the choices of their neighbors, created this problem. The Promise is written and produced Meribah Knight, with additional reporting by Samantha Max. Edited by Emily Siner, with additional editing by Anita Bugg, Tony Gonzalez, Samantha Max, Sergio Martinez-Beltran and Damon Mitchell. Fact-checking and research by Sam Zern. Advising for this season by Savala Nolan Trepczynski and Alex Kotlowitz. Mixing by Jakob Lewis of Great Feeling Studios. The music is by Blue Dot Sessions.

Warner's Hope

Warner Elementary is about to take its moon shot. After landing on the state's list of lowest-performing schools, it's aiming to make the list of highest-performing schools. Finally, it has all the right tools: an infusion of federal grant money, an energetic and experienced principal, and new class offerings that set the school apart. But the real turnaround will only work if more students enroll — white students, specifically. And most white families in the neighborhood want nothing to do with Warner. In this episode, Warner begins its uphill turnaround battle. The Promise is written and produced Meribah Knight. Edited by Emily Siner, with additional editing by Anita Bugg, Tony Gonzalez, Samantha Max, Sergio Martinez-Beltran and Damon Mitchell. Fact-checking and research by Sam Zern. Advising for this season by Savala Nolan Trepczynski and Alex Kotlowitz. Mixing by Jakob Lewis of Great Feeling Studios. The music is by Blue Dot Sessions.

What You Can't Unsee

When Willie Sims' daughter started kindergarten at a high-performing elementary school in East Nashville, all seemed well at first. His daughter loved her teacher. She was making friends. But then Willie realized: In a neighborhood with tons of Black families, his daughter was the only Black child in the entire grade. Then he started hearing murmurings from other families, white families, concerned about the issue of resegregation. They were mobilizing. They wanted to push the school to acknowledge the fact that families of color were becoming scarcer and scarcer at the school. In this episode, white parents start to see the problem. And once they do, they can't unsee it. The Promise is written and produced Meribah Knight. Edited by Emily Siner, with additional editing by Anita Bugg, Tony Gonzalez, Samantha Max, Sergio Martinez-Beltran and Damon Mitchell. Fact-checking and research by Sam Zern. Advising for this season by Savala Nolan Trepczynski and Alex Kotlowitz. Mixing by Jakob Lewis of Great Feeling Studios. The music is by Blue Dot Sessions.

The Unraveling

After 43 years of courtroom battles, Nashville's landmark school desegregation lawsuit was settled. In the eyes of the law, the city finally made an honest effort to racially integrate its schools. But in truth, the matter was far from settled. For the Kelley family, whose son was the case's named plaintiff, being Black in America meant there were battles and sacrifices at every turn — far beyond education. And for Richard Dinkins, the plaintiffs' lawyer, hope was quickly replaced by dismay as he watched decades of work and progress towards school desegregation begin to unravel. "The settlement was based on mutual promises," Dinkins said. "The city broke the promise." In this episode, our story about Nashville's fight for school desegregation continues. The Promise is written and produced Meribah Knight. Edited by Emily Siner, with additional editing by Anita Bugg, Tony Gonzalez, Samantha Max, Sergio Martinez-Beltran and Damon Mitchell. Fact-checking and research by Sam Zern. Advising for this season by Savala Nolan Trepczynski and Alex Kotlowitz. Mixing by Jakob Lewis of Great Feeling Studios. The music is by Blue Dot Sessions.

The Nashville Way

To understand the resegregation of Nashville's schools, you have to start with understanding desegregation. In 1954, the famous Brown v. Board decision ruled that segregated schools violated the constitution. But in reality, that decision changed very little in Nashville. Segregation was an architecture, and to pull it apart was a grueling endeavor. White families derailed the process. City officials worked mightily to resist it. And black families sacrificed for it. In this episode, we're going back to the early days of this battle for racial equity in the classroom, to the time not that long ago when school desegregation literally blew this city apart. The Promise is written and produced Meribah Knight. Edited by Emily Siner, with additional editing by Anita Bugg, Tony Gonzalez, Samantha Max, Sergio Martinez-Beltran and Damon Mitchell. Fact-checking and research by Sam Zern. Advising for this season by Savala Nolan Trepczynski and Alex Kotlowitz. Mixing by Jakob Lewis of Great Feeling Studios. The music is by Blue Dot Sessions.

A Tale Of Two Schools

At the beginning of the 2019 school year, Principal Ricki Gibbs knew he had a tough job ahead. Warner Elementary in East Nashville had just landed on Tennessee's list of lowest performing schools. It had lost so many students that it wasn't even half full. Gibbs was the fourth principal in six years. Yet, he had seemingly unending enthusiasm and a federal magnet grant to boot. He was confident he could turn Warner around. But what he didn't anticipate was the neighborhood divide. Warner's kids are almost all black and most live in poverty, but just about a mile up the road is another public elementary, named Lockeland, whose student body is exactly the opposite. What happens when you have two schools so close together yet so different? And what happens when people in the neighborhood finally start to notice?

Season 2 Coming Soon

Season 2 of The Promise grapples with some of the most divisive topics in America: public education and race. This is a story about one school trying to stay afloat, a neighborhood divided over race and economics, and a city that's resisted school desegregation every step of the way. Coming Aug. 31 to a podcasting app near you.

Update: Letting Go

Ms. Vernell has another big decision to make: to stay in Cayce through the chaos of redevelopment, or to leave? Her conclusion reveals something about this long, messy process to overhaul Nashville's public housing. What happens when residents get tired — tired of being told to keep waiting, tired of being asked to keep moving ... just tired?

Bonus 2: The Big Man Interview

If you've listened to The Promise, you no doubt remember Dexter Turner, aka Big Man. We met him in episode 2. The husband, father and community leader with a quick wit and a large personality had been planning a family barbecue, when a fatal shooting happened right in front of his apartment. In this episode, Meribah Knight speaks with Big Man months later, live on stage at Nashville Public Radio's Podcast Party.

Bonus

We return to the James Cayce Homes to follow up with residents amid the $600 million overhaul. But in checking back, we trip into some news. And we're reminded, yet again, of how difficult it will be to pull off this massive redevelopment. As the city preps to turn its largest public housing projects into a mixed income development, Cayce residents have to sign a new agreement with steeper fines for late rent, stricter limits on guests and cleaning rules. Plus, higher income tenants won't have to sign it, which is making residents all the more skeptical, casting doubt on whether the housing authority can really deliver on its promise: To build a community where both the city's poorest residents and prosperous city-dwellers can live in harmony.

Part 6: The Future

Does this big idea to have low-income and higher income people living side-by-side really make a community better, safer, healthier? As The Promise comes to a close, we dig into the fundamental question driving this massive overhaul of Nashville's public housing. The city's housing agency is betting on mixed income, big time. But its only attempts have been on a much smaller scale than what's envisioned for the James Cayce Homes. We explore one particular attempt, at a housing complex nearby known as John Henry Hale. And what we find reveals that building pretty homes, and putting people side-by-side doesn't necessarily produce a flourishing community. Music Credits: The Insider, Black Ant, and James Pants, all found through the Free Music Archive Production Credits: Writing and reporting: Meribah Knight Editing: Blake Farmer, Anita Bugg. With additional help from Tony Gonzalez Sound Design: Tony Gonzalez

Part 5: Get Some Gone

There is a saying in Nashville's James Cayce Homes: "Get some gone." Three simple words that describe the urge, the mission, to move out, to get away from the city's oldest public housing project. Tonya Shannon grew up in Cayce. And she was determined to get out. So at 18 years old, she got some gone. But leaving the place is rarely a clean break. And with her mother still at Cayce, she lives with complicated thoughts about its future and the people she left behind.

Part 4: The Great Divide

This is a story about the assumptions we all make. And the secrets we keep. With WPLN reporter Meribah Knight as the go-between, Big Man, a public housing resident from the Cayce Homes, walks across the street to meet the wealthy couple who live in the fancy new home on the hill. In many ways, their lives couldn't be more different, but in breaking the silence between the two sides of the gentrifying neighborhood, a friendship begins to form — only to be dashed in a way no one could have expected. Production Credits: Writing and reporting: Meribah Knight Editing: Blake Farmer, Anita Bugg. With additional help from Tony Gonzalez, Emily Siner, Chas Sisk and Julieta Martinelli Sound Design: Tony Gonzalez

Part 3: The People And The Police

The relationship between James Cayce residents and Nashville police is a tenuous one. In this episode, we explore two defining moments in Cayce: A viral cell phone video of awo defining moments in Cayce: A viral cell phone video of a police officer being assaulted, and the most controversial police shooting in the city's recent history. Both were caught on camera. And both reveal the strain between the people who live in Cayce and the people who patrol it. The episode begins with Nashville Police Officer Matthew Cammarn, who responds to a call in the East Nashville public housing complex and ends up in a physical altercation that's caught on cell phone video. Grainy and crude, the video quickly went viral. Getting millions of views and national media coverage, it was a defining moment in Cayce. It also changed Cammarn's life, and caused police to bear down on the complex in a way they hadn't before. But more broadly, the April 2016 incident laid bare the fractured relationship between the community and the police. Then, ten months after the fight in Cayce, on a warm Friday afternoon in early February 2017, a man named Jocques Clemmons runs a stop sign in Cayce. An officer named Joshua Lippert pulls up behind him, blue lights flashing. What begins as a basic traffic stop ends in a fatal shooting. Lippert shoots Clemmons three times in the back, killing him. Clemmons was black and Officer Lippert, white. And it was all caught on camera. For years, similar stories had been playing out around the country. And Suddenly, Nashville was in the middle of its own. **Music Credits: **Our theme music is by The Insider, additional music by Fleslit, all found through the Free Music Archive. **Production Credits: **Writing and reporting: Meribah Knight Editing: Blake Farmer, Anita Bugg. With additional help from Tony Gonzalez, Emily Siner, Chas Sisk Sound Design: Tony Gonzalez Archival news clips were from News Channel 5 and WKRN. With additional audio from the Metro Nashville Police Department and Andrew Hunter.

Part 2: A Beautiful Day In The Projects

If you live in the Cayce Homes in Nashville, you know Dexter Turner. Not by Dexter, but by his nickname: Big Man. A husband, a father, a community leader, a showman — Big Man is a name everyone knows here. People love Big Man. And he loves his neighborhood just as much in return. But the chaos and the violence in Cayce make him irate. We follow Big Man one pivotal afternoon where his plans for a family barbecue are upended by a fatal shooting right in front of his apartment. More info and photos are at thepromise.wpln.org Music Credits: Our theme music is by The Insider, additional music by Fleslit, all found through the Free Music Archive. Production Credits: Writing and reporting: Meribah Knight Editing: Blake Farmer, Anita Bugg. With additional help from Tony Gonzalez, Emily Siner, Chas Sisk and Julieta Martinelli Sound Design: Tony Gonzalez

Part 1: A Change is Gonna Come

At 61 years old, Vernell McHenry is like the grandmother of her corner of James Cayce. Where she's lived for more than 17 years, greeting the neighborhood from a metal folding beach chair on her stoop. But Cayce is about the be transformed, torn down and rebuilt as mixed income apartments. And now, Vernell has a decision to make. Does she stay in her dilapidated and aging apartment where her friends and a gaggle of smiling kids live next door? Or does she go down the hill to a brand new building, potentially losing her social life and sense of home in the process? **Music Credits: ** Our theme music is by The Insider, additional music by Fleslit and Willbe, all found through the Free Music Archive. The archival audio, found through YouTube, is from the United States Housing Agency. **Production Credits: ** Writing and reporting: Meribah Knight Editing: Blake Farmer, Anita Bugg. With additional help from Tony Gonzalez, Emily Siner, Chas Sisk and Julieta Martinelli Sound Design: Tony Gonzalez Fact Checking: Steve Cavendish

Coming Soon: The Promise

Here's a preview of the new special six-part series from Nashville Public Radio, where we take you inside Nashville's oldest and largest public housing project.