Shadows of a Dream: The History of Racial Inequality in America

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Graphics by Nicole Bae

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis police custody in May, Americans across the country took to the streets. Those calling for change argue that it's not just about police brutality, but years of systemic racial oppression across the board. So, how did we get here? Our new You Are Here special report series "Shadows of a Dream: The History of Racial Inequality in America," looks into the history of racial injustice in Massachusetts and beyond, as well as the reverberations of such inequities that are being felt by the Black American community today. 

Learn more about You Are Here's AP award-winning reporting here.

Missed out on an episode? Binge the whole series here, or visit You Are Here's Soundcloud Page


The first episode of our "Shadows of a Dream" series traces the origins of racial inequities in New England, including Massachusetts's often glossed-over involvement in the slave trade. We also explore the successes and failures of policies of the American Reconstruction era in the fight for racial equality, and delve into the political legacy of the era. The episode features interview with:

Kerima Lewis, Emerson College Professor of African American History

Paula Austin, Boston University Professor of African American History

Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai,  Director of Research at the Massachusetts Historical Society


With the groundwork of racial inequity laid, episode two starts the exploration into the societal impacts of racial disparities. In this episode, we focus on education inequality and the relationship between race, poverty, and educational opportunity. This episode features interviews from:

Howard "D" Simpson, 88.9 Operations Manager, Host of "The Secret Spot," and co-creator/advisor for "Shadows of a Dream"

George Knight, Morning Show Host

Mark Brodie, Emerson College Professor

Colin Stokes, Head of Communications for METCO, Inc.

Demiah Crawford, Emerson College Student Class of 2022

Jessica Tang, President of the Boston Teachers Union


In this episode, we delve deeper into the implications of neighborhood segregation, and its links to environmental justice and healthcare disparities. We define and explore the concept of environmental racism and the disproportionate impact of climate change, pollution, and natural disasters on communities of color. We also look into why it is often difficult for those communities to access health care services and get health insurance. This episode features interviews with:

Lewis Finfer, Co-Director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network

Daniel Faber, Director of the Northeastern Environmental Justice Research Collaborative

Dr. Nancy Kressin, Boston University School of Medicine

Audrey Shelto, President of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation

Michael Curry, Deputy CEO and General Counsel of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. 


In this episode, we discuss the Harlem Renaissance, an explosion of art from the Black community in Harlem in the 1920's, and how it galvanized the political will of the Black community. We also talk about what the Civil Rights Movement looked like in Boston. This episode features interviews with:

Traci Parker, Assistant Professor, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst

L'Merchie Frazier, Director of Education and Interpretation at the Museum of African American History, Boston


This segment takes a deep look at the legacy of the War on Drugs and its impact on minority communities. This piece explores how criminalization of drugs is rarely about the drug itself, but rather who is using the drug; American drug policies have historically been used as political weapons against Black and Brown Americans. This episode features a conversation with:

Nancy Allen, Emerson College Professor of the War on Drugs/Former Researcher at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. 


This segment looks at the prison industry and its impact on the Black community. In the first half, we explore the War on Crime and the structures it put in place which led to the ongoing issue of mass incarceration. We also talk about the privatization of the prison system and what that means for those behind bars. This episode features interviews with: 

Michael Meltzner, attorney and professor of law at Northeastern University

Mona Igram, juvenile defence attorney in Massachusetts

Mneesha Gellman, Emerson College professor and head of the Emerson Prison Initiative


In the finale of Shadows of a Dream, Nicole and Leah discuss current racial protests fueled by the murder of George Floyd, and what steps can -- and should -- be taken to build the future of an anti-racist America. This segment features interviews with:

Dr. M. Lee Pelton, President of Emerson College

Jabari Asim, Associate Professor at Emerson College

Michael Curry, Deputy CEO and General Counsel for the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers

Meet the voices behind the series


Leah Jablo has been with 88.9 since 2018 when she started as a public affairs reporter. She became News Coordinator and producer of our public affairs show You Are Here in the fall of 2019. During her time at the station, she's reported on a variety of public affairs topics including public health, climate science, and social justice issues. You can also catch her delivering the morning news on Mornings With George Knight. A Chicago native, Leah has found a home in Boston with her friends at WERS.

Nicole Poitras is a journalism major at Emerson College set to graduate in December of 2020. She started at WERS her first semester as a reporter for You Are Here. After trying her hand at print and television journalism, she came back to her first love of radio in the second half of her junior year. It was then she began taking radio-related courses and unexpectedly received the opportunity to fill the News Coordinator position while Leah studied abroad. She has been blessed to stay on as Co-News Coordinator with Leah since then, and has found a family among the student and professional staff at the station. Nicole is driven by a calling to better the world through storytelling, and she plans to continue in the field of public affairs radio journalism. 

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