Southlake: episode 1
Home of the Dragons
Antonia Hylton: Just a warning. This is a series about a pretty raw fight over race and identity, and at times over the six episodes you're going to hear racial slurs and harsh language that relate to key parts of the story. We've tried to limit them, but there are moments when we think it's important to hear the actual words, however offensive. Thanks for listening.
Male Voice: He grabbed my son, which is part of my person. He attacked me. Officer, you need to do something about this.
Female Voice: Yeah.
Male Voice: That is the law.
Male Voice: He grabbed...
Hylton: School board meetings are supposed to be--
Male Voice: Which is part of my person--
Hylton: --boring. They're supposed to be polite and low stakes.
Male Voice: You decided to do this--
Male Voice: --consequences.
Male Voice: --not the person--
Hylton: But school board meetings in Southlake, Texas these days are different.
Male Voice: It needs to be done. Officer, we need to take his information. You do not get to do this.
Male Voice: I didn't do anything.
Male Voice: Come on.
Male Voice: You did. You brought--
Female Voice: Come on--
Male Voice: --saw it.
Female Voice: Stop it.
Male Voice: Come on.
Mike Hixenbaugh: Tuning into a Southlake School Board meeting in 2021 is a little like what they say about Pro Hockey. People watch it for the fights.
Male Voice: No more bullying. Let's (CLAPPING) go. He needs to go. (APPLAUSE)
We've had enough of your nonsense.
Hylton: On this night in May, more than 60 people have signed up to speak during public comments, and a lot of them go on talking even after an alarm signals their time is up.
Female Voice: Ms. Moore, you cannot shut us up. You cannot keep (BEEPING) us quiet. Nobody has any respect for you. (APPLAUSE)
Female Voice: You no longer get to implement your woke agenda on Carroll ISD.
Hixenbaugh: The scene tonight feels more like a political rally than a local government meeting--
Female Voice: --have them together in a fight--
Hixenbaugh: Parents are waving homemade signs from the audience--
Female Voice: Today five--
Hixenbaugh: --and cheering after almost every speaker.
Female Voice: You need to resign, or we will continue to breathe fire upon this corrupt school board. (APPLAUSE)
Female Voice: All right. (KNOCKING)
Hylton: Part of what these parents want is for the district to stop making their kids wear--
Group: Stop the masks--
Hylton: --at school.
Group: Stop the masks.
Hylton: But the anger in the room is about much more than that.
Female Voice: This training is a form of segregation as it divides people by their race.
Hylton: They're here because they want the board to kill a diversity and inclusion plan that district leaders have spent years developing.
Female Voice: This is inherently segregation that you are allowing. Applied--
Female Voice: Your time is up--
Male Voice: Ma'am, your time is up-- (BEEPING)
Female Voice: Your time is up. Thanks.
Female Voice: Thank you. (BEEPING)
Hixenbaugh: In the audience, a white woman is holding a sign that shows a masked little girl with pigtails next to the words, "I can't breathe," appropriating George Floyd's dying words. Another mom walks up to the lectern carrying a poster with the school board president's face on it.
Female Voice: That's your mug shot on there, just in case you were wondering. Our campus recently had a PTO fundraiser where parents generously donated their...
Hylton: That's right. The fight here over the school diversity program has gotten so heated, two school leaders have been hit with criminal charges for allegedly discussing the plan (APPLAUSE) in secret.
Female Voice: All right. (KNOCKING) I want to get through all the speakers--
Female Voice: --more time than asking us to stop clapping.
Female Voice: You know what? I'm gonna--
Female Voice: --speak. I am speaking.
Hylton: The weirdest part? What's going down in this school board room might actually sound familiar, because these fights are breaking out all over the country.
Hixenbaugh: You're seeing showdowns like this in places like Loudoun County, Virginia.
Group: Save our youth. Save our youth.
Hixenbaugh: And Rockwood, Missouri.
Group: Save our youth--
Female Voice: Just because I do not want critical race theory taught to my children in school does not mean that I am a racist, (VOICE BREAKS) dammit.
Hixenbaugh: And Bloomington, Illinois.
Male Voice: It's pretty much gonna be teaching kids how to hate each other. How to dislike each other--
Male Voice: Right. (CHEERING)
Male Voice: That's kind of what is going on --
Hylton: The outrage spread so fast it might seem like it came out of nowhere, but it didn't. It's been bubbling up for years now in towns across America. Towns that weren't used to bitter debates and attack ads and name calling and the hot lights of national media. Towns that certainly weren't prepared for the fallout.
Hixenbaugh: Towns like beautiful, prosperous Southlake, Texas. From NBC News, I'm Mike Hixenbaugh.
Hylton: I'm Antonia Hylton.
Hixenbaugh: And this is Southlake.
Hylton: Chapter one. Home of the Dragons. In America, especially these days, where you live often says a lot about who you are. Mike and I both cover politics and policy at NBC. I'm a correspondent and Mike's a national reporter. But you don't have to be an expert to know the trend.
Hixenbaugh: You live in a big city, there's a good chance you're a progressive who values diversity. Live out in the country, then most of your neighbors are probably conservatives who tend to vote Republican.
Hylton: But the suburbs, the suburbs are where it gets interesting. The suburbs are where the growth is happening, where the wealth is accumulating, and where one of the messiest of American ideals, the melting pot, really gets put to the test.
Hixenbaugh: Southlake is one of those suburbs. The city is about 30 minutes northwest of Dallas, sprawling over former grasslands out by the airport. The kind of town that's so perfect, outsiders like to rag on it. They call it, "The Bubble." But a lot of people who live out here call it The Bubble too.
Hylton: Because life's pretty good here. And when you drive through town, you can see why.
Hixenbaugh: Nice places to eat. Pristine roads. Playgrounds and baseball fields everywhere. And there's also a lotta wealth.
Hixenbaugh: That's a castle.
Hylton: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
Hylton: We saw it as we drove down Southlake Boulevard and turned into neighborhoods with names like Diamond Circle Estates.
Hylton: Really grand, hardwood, heavy front doors.
Hylton: And when we cruised down White Chapel Boulevard, the ritziest section of town.
Hylton: This person's estate is called, "The Blessing."
Hixenbaugh: Huge 8,000-square-foot mansions, each with its own ornate fountain, spraying water into the hot Texas air. This dream home living draws a certain slice of north Texas wealth. Oil and gas bosses, pro athletes, airline execs. Most families here earn more than $240,000 a year. The typical house goes for about a million.
But there's something special about Southlake that's a little bit harder to quantify. People here have an overwhelming sense of community pride. A shared identity centered on the city's award-winning school system. And it's crown jewel, Southlake Carroll High School, home (APPLAUSE) of the Dragons. Female Voice: And now Dragons fans. (CHEERING) Stand up Dragons. Stand up on your feet for the sound of the Dragon. (CHEERING)
Hixenbaugh: In Southlake, everyone is a Dragon. You hear it in the way parents introduce themselves.
Hannah Smith: My name is Hannah Smith and I'm the mother of four Dragons.
Female Voice: I'm the mother of two Dragons.
Male Voice: I'm the father of three Dragons.
Hixenbaugh: And you see it in the clothes they wear. Almost everyone has a drawer full of Dragon green t-shirts. Even the S's on Southlake street signs are, you guessed it, curvy little dragons.
Cheerleaders: Simply the best, D-R-A-G-O-N-S. Carroll Dragons, simply the best. D-R-A-G-O-N-S. Carroll--
Robin Cornish: This is the senior high school.
Hylton: Robin Cornish is a former Southlake resident--
Hylton: --who sent five children through the school system. After showing us around her old neighborhood, she brought us to Southlake's upscale shopping district, Town Square. There's a park here dedicated to one of the city's former residents. It's a symbol of Southlake's promise to be open and welcoming to everyone. And it's a place that's very special to Robin, because it's named after her late husband, Frank Edgar Cornish.
Hixenbaugh: On this evening, teenagers are taking selfies in front of the fountain in the park's brick courtyard.
Hixenbaugh: A mom and her two kids sit on a bench eating ice cream under a vine-covered archway. An older couple leans over a white tablecloth, sipping wine on a restaurant patio.
R. Cornish: We can walk over there and see--
Hylton: Over the past couple of years, Robin has been part of a group of parents who've been telling a different story about Southlake. About what it's like to raise Black children here, in a city where most everyone else is white.
Hixenbaugh: With us trailing her, Robin walks up to the plaque dedicating the park to Frank and reads the last line engraved on it.
R. Cornish: "May his vision of diverse, inclusive community continue to inspire future generations."
Hixenbaugh: His vision of a diverse, inclusive community.
Hylton: How do you feel when you look at this now?
R. Cornish: Sad. They agreed to it. They had it put in bronze. So why are we where we are now?
Hixenbaugh: The question Robin's asking there is one we've been trying to answer ever since I got a tip last fall about the battle going on in Southlake. There's been a lot of accusations and counter-accusations, and a lot of grudges. But one thing is clear. When you start asking around about what happened in Southlake, one name almost always comes up. Hers.
R. Cornish: How you doin'?
R. Cornish: You ready to come in here?
R. Cornish: Go ahead.
Hylton: Robin is a nurse and flight attendant who grew up in an affluent Black home on the south side of Chicago. She's tall, confident and composed, and at 51, she's the type of person who commands attention when she walks into a room. People in Southlake say her late husband, Frank, had that way about him too.
R. Cornish: Frank was this larger-than-life personality, and had the hugest heart.
Hylton: Frank died 13 years ago, but his presence still lingers over the town. When they first met in the spring of 1988, Frank was a towering All American center for UCLA. He was a star on campus, bound for the NFL. But to Robin, he was just a Teddy bear. She called him Corn Dog.
R. Cornish: He always made me laugh. And he was truly just my best friend, because we were both--
Hylton: They got engaged and moved to Texas in 1992, after Frank signed a free agent contract with the Cowboys. (CHEERING)
Archival Recording: Aikman, Irving. Touchdown, Dallas.
Hylton: Yeah. That Dallas Cowboys team.
Archival Recording: Up front the offensive line, Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Frank Cornish.
Hylton: While Frank and his superstar teammates were making a run at back-to-back Super Bowl championships, the Cornishes were newlyweds, looking to start a family and put down roots. Several of Frank's teammates were living in Coppell and Highland Park and other wealthy north Dallas suburbs. But their realtor wanted to show them a community a little farther out.
R. Cornish: And she was saying, "Well, I know a lot of people are staying in Coppell, but let me tell you about Southlake. It's this up-and-coming community. It's a great area. Great schools." And so, we came out.
Hylton: For Frank, who'd spent many summers at his grandfather's farm in rural Louisiana, it was love at first sight.
R. Cornish: And it was this two-lane dirt road. He saw the cattle and the horses, and he was like, "This is where we're gonna live." He was like, "We're movin' to Southlake."
Hylton: As for Robin's first impression--
R. Cornish: It was like, "If you're happy, I'm happy." I'm thinkin', "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: Did it start to grow on you?
R. Cornish: It did. It did grow on me.
Hylton: Robin and Frank built their dream house in Southlake, and brought their first child, Frankie, home in 1994. Those early years are captured in a stack of home videos that Robin hadn't looked at in a decade until we asked her to pull them out.
R. Cornish: Oh Lord, what is this?
Hylton: There's Frank, shirtless with a gold chain around his neck, splashing with little Frankie for the first time in their backyard swimming pool.
Frank Cornish: Wave to Mommy. Hi Mommy.
R. Cornish: Hi. (LAUGHTER)
Hylton: Frankie's first birthday.
Group: (SINGING) "Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you."
Hylton: Frankie as a toddler dancing around the living room.
R. Cornish: That's our house in Southlake on Sheffield. Look at him.
Hylton: Those years were a blur--
R. Cornish: He's in a diaper, but he was...
Hylton: --but they were good ones.
R. Cornish: I thought he was gonna be...
Hylton: Robin's days were filled with the mundane, all-consuming work of raising young children, including twin baby girls. Frank was busy too, starting a new career as a financial planner once injuries ended his pro career after six seasons. Outside of football, he was finding a new identity, centered on his family and on his town.
R. Cornish: Frank loved Southlake. He embraced the city.
Hylton: He signed up their coach youth Dragon football and basketball teams, and volunteered on the city's parks and recreation board. He became an unofficial town booster, telling anyone who would listen about all that Southlake had to offer. He even convinced several of his old Cowboys teammates to move out here with him.
Hixenbaugh: And they weren't the only ones who saw the appeal.
R. Cornish: It was a boom.
Hixenbaugh: The town went from 7,000 residents in 1990--
R. Cornish: All of a sudden you had this population explosion and everybody is coming in.
Hixenbaugh: --to more than 21,000 a decade later. The city didn't just grow in numbers, but in wealth and reputation too. And that was especially true at Carroll ISD. The Carroll Independent School District. At Southlake Carroll High, the varsity football team is a perennial state championship contender.
Archival Recording: Touchdown, Carroll Dragons.
Hixenbaugh: And average SAT scores are good enough to get students into top tier public universities. As parents here like to say, a private school education at a public-school price.
Amy Rolle: That was our primary focus. A superior public school system, and Southlake was unrivaled.
Hylton: That's what drew Amy Rolle here in 2006, when she and her husband were looking for a place to raise their three young children. Coming from Los Angeles, they couldn't believe how well the Carroll schools performed, or that they could afford a 4,000 square foot house in Southlake for the price of a two bedroom in LA.
A. Rolle: We couldn't believe the housing prices. We're like, "What's the catch? What's the catch?"
Hylton: The catch, it turned out, was that there weren't many families in town that looked like hers. They did meet a few. The Rolle kids hit it off right away with the Cornish kids. But while Southlake had gotten more diverse since Robin and Frank arrived 13 years earlier, with an influx of South Asian and Latino families, there still weren't a lot of Black families. And Amy says it showed in all kinds of ways. She remembers her daughter Raven coming home from school asking--
A. Rolle: "What number is Daddy?" "What do you mean, what number is he? He's number one. Like, what do you mean? (LAUGH) I don't know what you're talking about." You know? And she said, "Well, everyone always asks me what number he is." And it took me a while to realize other children, little kids, are thinking, "Oh, you're Black, so your dad must be a Dallas Cowboy or your dad must be on one of the professional teams."
Hixenbaugh: For the record, Raven's dad, Reggie, is an actor, best known for his role as the Green Power Ranger. Amy's an actor too. They actually met on set.
Hylton: Another time when Raven was in kindergarten, two white girls told her, matter of fact on the playground, that they couldn't play with her because her skin was brown. Raven is now a college student. She says she got used to comments like that.
Raven Rolle: And just, like, little things like that happened a lot growing up. A lot had to do with, like, my hair. I used to--
Hylton: Her mom, Amy, was hurt by this, but overall, she says she still felt good about their decision to raise kids in Southlake. Run-ins like these could happen anywhere, and they seemed like a small price to pay to get their children a top-notch education. Back then, Raven liked Southlake too.
R. Rolle: I was really happy in the beginning. I wasn't aware of what was going on in our city.
Hylton: Just as Amy Rolle and her family were getting settled, the Cornishes' Southlake dream started to unravel. In the years after Frank left the NFL, money got tight. Really tight. Their youngest son was born with a heart defect that required a transplant. Six figure medical bills followed.
The family went into bankruptcy and the dream house went into foreclosure. But Frank tried to put on a good face. He picked up a second job to help cover the bills. All the while he kept volunteering as a coach and was even appointed chairman of the city's parks and rec board.
R. Cornish: He was like, "I'm wanna be mayor of this town one day." I was like, "What?" And he goes, "No, I really do." Even in the midst of all our financial troubles, he was still hopeful. He was like, "This is my home, and I wanna make a difference here, and I wanna be mayor one day."
Hylton: Looking back on that conversation now, it's hard for Robin to imagine Frank's dream ever becoming a reality. On the morning of August 23, 2008, when Robin called Frank on the way home from a night shift at the hospital, he didn't answer the phone. And that was unusual. When she got home, Robin went upstairs and was surprised to find Frank still in bed.
R. Cornish: I looked right at him. He's on his side. I thought, "Oh, he's sleepin'. I won't-- he's tired." You know? Because he was workin' hard for the family.
Hylton: But then she tried to wake him up.
R. Cornish: "Frank. Frank. Frank." And I push him. Shoved him. And he was cold. And I drew my hand back. And I kinda looked, and then I crouched down and looked. And I'm like, "Oh my god. Oh my God." I was like, "He's not breathing." I still remember saying, "No, oh, no, oh, no. This isn't happening." And the kids are like, "What's wrong?" And I called 911.
Hylton: Her kids where hysterical, shouting, "What's wrong with Dad?" as paramedics arrived and started CPR. But they couldn't get a pulse.
R. Cornish: And I just lost it completely. And I called my mom and I said, "Frank died. Frank died."
Hylton: Just a month shy of his 41st birthday, Frank's heart had failed in his sleep. At the hospital that morning, (SINGING) Robin climbed onto his chest and sang to him, a psalm that had been special to both of them.
R. Cornish: You know, I think he was just tired, and God said, "You know, just trust me, I'll take care of them. But it's time for you to rest." (SINGING) So that was that, and he was gone. You know, people see him as a professional athlete, but he was just my Frank. He was my Corn Dog. I'm sorry, y'all.
Hylton: Robin now found herself not only devastated, but facing a huge question about whether to stay in Southlake, and what the town even meant without Frank in it. This place had been his dream, not hers. She thought seriously about moving back to Chicago.
R. Cornish: I remember we sat in a circle and said our prayers after the funeral, and we were in Frankie's room. And I said, "This is where our life begins without Dad, and we have to figure it out."
Hylton: In the end, Robin chose Frank's vision for their kids in Southlake and the first-rate education offered at Carroll. She couldn't afford to keep their house, but she was able to find a rental home just outside the city limits in the town of Keller.
A school district official contacted her to let her know she was free to keep her kids in Carroll under an open enrollment policy for students forced to move after the death of a parent. That fall, overwhelmed by grief, Robin struggled to function.
One thing that kept her going was the outpouring of support from neighbors and old friends, and even a few strangers. The city Frank had given so much to was giving back, and then some. The Southlake city council even named that park after him and put up a plaque in his honor. That gesture was supposed to represent the town's gratitude for Frank's legacy, and it's embrace of the family he left behind. But what no one knew then was that it would end up becoming a glaring symbol of something very, very different.
R. Cornish: And--
Hylton: Is this where you found the graffiti?
R. Cornish: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Yeah, that's where I found it.
Hylton: She found it on May 21st, 2017
R. Cornish: It was carved in here, carved in here.
Hylton: --nine years after Frank's death. Robin's extended family members were in town visiting from Chicago, and she decided to take them to see his park at Town Square. The plaza was busy with shoppers coming in and out of Sephora and J. Crew. Robin remembers one of her little cousins saying, "Auntie, someone colored on the plaque." In fact, someone had carved into it. Six words that sent a chill up Robin's spine. "KKK will get you Black people."
R. Cornish: I mean just, you know, imagine walkin' up, bein' like, "What is that?"
Hylton: Robin was shaking and upset. Who would do that? Those words carved onto a memorial for one of the few Black men to hold positions of leadership in Southlake. She snapped photos of the vandalized engraving and posted them on Facebook. She tagged Southlake mayor Laura Hill who had been on the city council when it voted to name the park in Frank's honor. Mayor Hill came as soon as she saw the post.
R. Cornish: And so, she came out, and she was tearful, and licking her fingers and tryin' to rub it off. I'm like, "It's carved in there." So, they immediately had somebody come out and take it down.
Hylton: The racist vandalism made the local news in Dallas, a rare, embarrassing headline for a town accustomed to praise.
Archival Recording: The mayor had the plaque removed, and wrote a Facebook post that said, in part, "The clear message I want to send is that this type of racist behavior has no place in Southlake, and no place in our society. I will not pretend this didn't happen here. It did. And we are going to talk about it."
Hixenbaugh: The police never found out who defaced the marker, but members of the city council condemned the vandalism, and voted to replace Frank's plaque, officially rededicating the park in his memory. But for Robin, the graffiti incident had cut deep.
It got her thinking about the past, and about a parade of smaller incidents over the years. All of it now came flooding back. There was the time, she says, when little Frankie, then in sixth grade, got into an argument with a kid at lunch one day.
R. Cornish: "Hey Frankie, how do you get a Black out of a tree?" 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 tell us about this.
Hixenbaugh: Frank was still alive then. The two of them drove to the school the next morning and asked to meet with the principal.
R. Cornish: We shared what happened. Then the follow up is the student did say this. We have talked to the parents. There's gonna be a punishment. But because of legal reasons we can't disclose, you know, what the punishment's gonna be. Kid never even said, "I'm sorry." Never apologized.
Hixenbaugh: Then there was the time a few years later when one of Robin's daughters was participating in Colonial Day, a day when Carroll Elementary School students had to dress up like characters from the 1600 and 1700s. But it seemed to her that no one had considered what that could mean for the Black kids.
R. 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."
Hixenbaugh: Robin went back to the school.
R. Cornish: "Well, you know, Ms. Cornish, this is something historic for Carroll. We've always had Colonial Day. This is something for the kids, an opportunity for them, you know, to learn." And, "Okay, the kids said my daughter needed to be a slave, so you all need to make an adjustment in your curriculum."
Hixenbaugh: Another time, a day after Rosa Parks' funeral in 2005, she remembers her kids coming home talking about something one of their white classmates had said on the school bus.
R. Cornish: "Rosa Parks is dead now, so you have to go to the back of the bus." I said, "What?" "They said we have to go. We can't sit in the front anymore. Rosa Parks is dead, so now we have to go to the back of the bus." Here we go again.
Hylton: Any of these incidents, did any of the parents ever call you and say--
R. Cornish: No.
Hylton: --"I'm sorry my kid said that?"
R. Cornish: I never got one single phone call to say, "I'm sorry." Ever. Ever.
Hylton: It's reasonable to wonder why would someone keep their children in an environment where these kinds of things happen. But for many Black people, what Robin's describing isn't surprising, and it's not really unique to Southlake. If you want your kids in a top public school anywhere in this country, chances are most of their classmates will be white.
And they'll be surrounded by people who don't look like them. Who may make remarks. Some subtle. Some more overt. My siblings and I went through this as some of the only Black kids at a high performing school outside Boston. It's the kind of tradeoff Black families make every day, and talk about all the time. And there's no guarantee that pulling your kid out and moving them to the district next door will make it better. Still, Robin began to agonize about whether she'd made the best choices for her children.
R. Cornish: I'm, like, I'm disappointed in me, because was why did I expect more? Or was, once again, my naivete was 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.
Hixenbaugh: What really crystallized all that regret, though, was a video that went viral in 2018, 17 months after the vandalism at Frank's park, dragging Southlake into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and thrusting Robin into a role she'd never asked for.
Archival Recording: Controversy in Southlake tonight after teens posted a racist video online. Tomorrow, Carroll--
Hixenbaugh: In the fall of 2018, a nine second video spread like wildfire through Southlake. It showed a group of eight white Carroll High School students chanting the N-word.
Archival Recording: The video surfaced (BEEPING) over the weekend showing students chanting a racial slur. (BACKGROUND VOICES) (BEEPING) It quickly went viral, (LAUGHTER) and the district says as soon as administrators found it, they started working with parents to get it taken down. It's--
Hixenbaugh: They'd filmed it at a party after the homecoming dance, and shared it on Snapchat. Somehow it made its way onto Twitter, where it blew up.
Archival Recording: They released a statement saying, quote, "We cannot and won't tolerate this kind of behavior and conduct." It's a tough--
Hylton: As the clip spread, drawing millions of views from all over, Carroll administrators were flooded with angry messages from parents, demanding to know what the district was going to do about it.
Hixenbaugh: So, they called a special school board meeting on November 2, 2018.
Female Voice: As we understand it today, there are a number of you, and members of our community, that would like to address CISD in regard to a video that contained a racial slur that was posted on social media last week.
Hylton: It was early on a Friday morning, and the boardroom was packed. All 50 seats in the audience were filled. Several parents stood and crouched along the walls.
Female Voice: So, with that, I will open the floor to public comments. Ms. Yelton, can you please tell me who the first speaker is?
Yelton: Yes, ma'am. The first speaker is Robin Cornish.
Hixenbaugh: Initially, Robin hadn't planned to speak out about the video, but she started getting messages from both white and Black parents after it was posted. They remembered how she'd spoken out after Frank's plaque a year earlier, and they wanted her to do it again. She stepped up to the lectern--
R. Cornish: Good morning, everyone.
Hixenbaugh: --adjusted the microphone, and read something she'd written the night before.
R. Cornish: I had five children matriculate through this school district. I am incredibly hurt, disappointed and angry about the recent incident regarding the racist video posted by the group of Southlake students. I didn't wanna just--
Hixenbaugh: Robin says she wanted to make one thing clear to the board. This wasn't about just a handful of teenagers or a single video.
R. Cornish: --hurt by the responses.
Hixenbaugh: She rattled off some of her kids' experiences at Carroll.
R. Cornish: By the responses of some of the parents--
Hixenbaugh: The racist joke about getting a Black person out of a tree. The Rosa Parks bus comment. The time in 2008, a couple months after Frank died, when a boy on the football team told Frankie that his mom was only voting for Barack Obama because now, she was gonna need welfare.
R. Cornish: But you've got to understand, you've got to change this curriculum. You've got to change the tone in this town. If you want us to be known as Southlake Carroll Dragons and to be inclusive, take action now. I thank you for your time. (APPLAUSE)
Hylton: Robin wasn't alone. One after another, parents of Black students came forward that morning like a dam had broken.
Female Voice: When he was in the fifth grade, a young boy told him, "Hey Brandon, why are you even here? Why don't you just go back to Africa?"
Female Voice: She has struggled since the day after the election, when a kid in band called her the N-word. And we are just tryin' to get through this year to see her graduate.
Female Voice: She kept poking him with a pencil, saying, "You can't feel this, because you've got that tough Black skin." She continued until the pencil lead broke into his skin.
Female Voice: If you see a Black family in this community, or a mixed family, trust me when I say they are struggling with the decision to keep their kids in this district. (APPLAUSE) Okay?
Hylton: According to people who were there, many in attendance were in tears by the end of the meeting, including some white parents. One white dad said this moment should be a wake-up call for the community.
Hixenbaugh: From her seat overlooking the room, board vice chair Michelle Moore remembers feeling shame. A shame that, even as a board member and a Dragon parent herself, she'd been clueless that these things were happening in her district. It's worth pointing out, Moore, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, is the only non-white Carroll school board member, though, based on her married name and complexion, she says most people don't realize she's Latina. I reached her by phone.
Michelle Moore: When you heard parent after parent come forward, some parents, like, I was friends with. Like, I mean, like, we had a personal relationship. And they had never talked to me about it. That I left that meeting saying like, "This is unacceptable and this is not gonna be the way that-- under my watch." If I can make a difference--
Hylton: After the meeting, Moore called Robin Cornish and other parents who shared painful stories, and she promised that she was going to try to make it better. So did lots of other Southlake leaders.
R. Cornish: They wanted to talk to me. City councilmembers wanted to talk to me. The mayor wanted to talk to me, among other people. Some like, "Y'all are really gonna do somethin'. Oh my gosh."
Hixenbaugh: And they did. The district got to work putting together a plan to make every Dragon feel safe and welcome at school. A plan to confront racism directly, and to help Southlake finally live up to its reputation for excellence. A plan that ended up tearing the town in two.
Hylton: That's next time on Southlake.
Hixenbaugh: From NBC News, this is the first of six episodes of Southlake, a series about belonging and backlash in an American suburb. If you like what you've heard, please give us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts, and be sure to tell your friends and follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you're listening right now. Southlake was written, reported and hosted by me, Mike Hixenbaugh.
Hylton: And by me, Antonia Hylton. The series is produced by Frannie Kelley. Our story editors are Julie Shapiro and Michelle Garcia. Production help and fact checking by Rachel Yang. Sound design by Seth Samuel. Original music by Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Bryson Barnes is our technical director. Reid Cherlin is our executive producer. Madeleine Haeringer is our head of editorial.