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First of All with Victor Blackwell

Miami-Dade Parent Shares Permission Slip Requiring Consent For Child To Attend Class Reading Of Book By A Black Author; FL Gov Reacts To School Requiring Permission Slip for Class Reading Book By A Black Author: "It Was Absurd"; Attorney For Former YSL Trial Defendant Arrested, Charged With Street Gang Activity; New Documentary Tells Story Of African-American Boarding School Piney Woods In Mississippi. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired February 17, 2024 - 08:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: First of all, needing a parent's permission to listen to a book written by a black person is objectively outrageous. Not a book about any controversial topic or political theory, just a book written by a black person. But that's exactly what teachers in South Florida say they felt forced to get this week because of a new state law. Today was the school making a political statement, or do Black History Month programs now need special approval?

Plus the testimony of Fani Willis grilled by lawyers trying to force her off the Donald Trump case here in Georgia. Some black professional women say they saw a double standard, we'll get into that. And Beyonce goes country.

Listen, we knew there would be some haters. But much of the criticism of her making music in the genre is just ignorant of history. So we're going to educate some people. I'm Victor Blackwell, let's start the show.

If you have kids, you probably cannot count the number of permission slips you've signed, for a trip to the zoo or museum when I was in school, we needed them before we could attend sex education. Okay. But the permission slip that parents at a school in Miami Dade Florida were asked to sign this week. It is, unfortunately, a sign of the time students needed permission to and this is a quote, "participate and listen to a book written by an African American." That's it.

It doesn't mention the contents of the book. No radical theories. Just a book written by a black person. A parent shared it online. And this, as you'd expect went viral. And we called up the parent to ask what he thought about this. And here's a bit of his reaction.


CHUCK WALTER, PARENT OF MIAMI-DADE STUDENT THAT GOT PERMISSION SLIP: What concerns me more is just parents who may not be realizing what they're signing off on or not signing on. And then potentially their kids being taken out of the class for that. That just seems to be very strange. And this is the first instance of it, and who knows where it could go from here.


BLACKWELL: Well, CNN got in touch with Miami-Dade public schools, and they say the description may have caused confusion, their word. And they added, "in compliance with the new state law permission slips were sent home because guest speakers would participate during the school-authorized education-related activity." Or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He was acted to. Here's what he said.


RON DESANTIS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You had this incident in Miami, where they did some permission slip for that it was absurd. It was there's nothing in state required that the State Board of Education immediately wrote a letter the principal said knock it off. Stop with the nonsense.


BLACKWELL: Or let's talk about this with historian and educator Marvin Dunn. He recently taught a Black History Month lesson at a Miami-Dade middle school that also required a permission slip. He's the author of a history of Florida through black eyes.

Professor, thank you for being with me. Let me start here with where you fall on this. What's this from your view a political statement or based on your understanding of the law, and maybe the confusion around it, that the teachers here were being prudent so they wouldn't get in trouble?

MARVIN DUNN, HISTORIAN AND EDUCATOR: Well, Victor, thank you very much for having me on this morning. You know, public education is not a boutique service, where I've had to go in and order three in restaurants, for my child to science, but no black history, but we will tend to be Bible studies. So it's now in Florida, at the point where schools are continues. They don't know what to do. They're intimidated education's children Florida because of these laws that had passed. So it's a mess in Florida.

Right now, what we're seeing in Florida is the saddest thing from last election the run for the presidency and now trying to backtrack on some of these laws that had passed. But I think it's a bit late for that. People are now in Florida schools very confused about what can be done and what can not be done particularly around the hit the case with race.


BLACKWELL: I want to pick up on one thing you said there, you said that this was, if I heard you correctly, a platform for him to potentially get the nomination for president and maybe there's some backpedaling. Do you expect that some of these laws to stop won't act, the parental rights and education will be altered repealed, because that obviously is not happening in 2024.

DUNN: They have to be altered. They cannot be enforced. They are absolutely enforceable. Essentially, these laws passed because he knew that there was a certain amount of anger in the country in Florida, particularly around race. And he thought that critical race theory, that would be the golden ring, and that would bring him into into the White House. And it's all backside.

Now, America is not having it. America is not going to go with the state intruding into the classroom to the extent that we should have a floor. This is not a no fly in our country's.

BLACKWELL: You -- your event at Palmetto Middle School in Miami-Dade, you were there to talk about your personal experiences with segregation. I also understand that if a Holocaust survivor wants to speak with students, those students also need a permission slip. I wonder what your reaction was when you realized that there needed to be special permission for you to talk about American history.

DUNN: I was angry. Actually, the school required me to write but whatever you want to talk about before I even went to the school. That was unusual. The nonsense was that as a starting particularly black historian, that we need to push even more to get our voices our stories in the schools despite the political opposition that we face in Florida and I think in this country.

We're going to see in Florida, I think, the diminishing of education to the point where we're losing teachers, but losing administrators, and short is certainly not the ideal state to hold up as the as an example of what the country should be doing education.

BLACKWELL: I just want to point out that the book that that doctor on Wednesday, or Tuesday actually was going to read to those students was just about a little black boy who had confidence. I am everything good. This wasn't about critical race theory or anything that was controversial, but simply because he was coming in for a Black History Month program. This is what happened.

I don't want to give the idea that this country has always taught all the nuances of American history. This might be the first generation though that is seeing a contraction of what is being taught about American history. And I want to give you one more opportunity, as the historian here to tell us what that means for our country. What that means for the next generation.

DUNN: It means that some of the most important stories in American history are going to be diminished or removed from the record. It means that we're going to have a generation of Americans going up not knowing what racism is, not knowing what discrimination really is. When I spoke to those students at Palmetto Middle, I told them directly what racism is and all races are not necessarily white. But that our country is not a racist country, that we will not allow discrimination in our country. And that's really the goal that they should see as (inaudible) Americans. They need to look to the future without discrimination being a part of our national picture. BLACKWELL: Marva Dunn, I thank you so much for the conversation. That

permission slip got a lot of attention this week. I thank you for giving us the context and perspective.

Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willism, did you see that testimony? She was in the witness chair this week. Giving some fiery answers to questions about her personal life or finances in relation to the election interference case is against Donald Trump and several of his allies. Now the defendants want her removed from the case. They say that she had an improper romantic and financial relationship with Nathan Wade. Now, Wade is one of the lawyers she hired to be a special prosecutor on the case.

Willis let's make clear that she was not happy to be in this position. She was not the only one. When the defendants made the allegations of misconduct. A lot of black women thought, here we go again. Another black woman in authority being targeted while she's trying to do her job. Now Others say that she should have known better considering her position and the double standard she faces.

Joining me now to talk about this is Terrica Redfield Ganzy. She's a former president of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys. Thank you so much for coming in studio.


BLACKWELL: Did you see a double standard and what we watched this week?

GANZY: I don't know if I saw double standard but my position regarding it that doesn't matter as much as I think the the conversation around black women in power being held to a double standard.


BLACKWELL: So I'll tell you that the catalyst for this conversation with you was some of the black female lawyers who are my friends who were livid first about the allegation, then that it was confirmed, but also about the treatment. And when it gets to this double standard, I think the talk that we often talk about is black men and police. But black professionals, the talk that happens there, let people enter that conversation.

GANZY: Well, most black professionals have grown up hearing there. You have to be twice as good to get half as much and that comes from a place of love and wanting to be protect people in similar ways. And we tap talk about the talk with relating to police. And however, it doesn't prepare us fully really, for the pain and the hurt that is experienced when you have when you actually experience these sort of double standards. And so I'm thinking of things like being distrusted or mistrusted, not being believed. People talking over you. It can be in some ways, simple things, but there's some times of really, really large things when you're feeling like if I had been another race or gender. Would you be talking to me like this? BLACKWELL: That's one of the things I want to get into is because I'm not going to sit here as a black professional and act like I don't know about the double standard, and that the standard is higher for me to be at this network at this job, right to have gotten here.

But I know what is a man. What is that from? I don't know the gender bias. Explain what that is and you feel in these spaces.

GANZY: Men oftentimes get a level of credibility. When people think of leaders, they often think men, right? And so women, black women, in particular, face a double whammy in terms of racial bias, as well as gender bias. And black women, you know, there are a number of stereotypes about maybe being too aggressive or things like that, that come to come into play in the workplace.

BLACKWELL: I'm not going to ask you specifically about the allegations, because that's really not what the conversation is here. But what has been the response that you've heard from your counterparts members to what's happened since the allegations of misconduct were made?

GANZY: They vary widely. We have some people who are wholly disappointed and really, really upset to folks who are fiercely defending and protective of her. People have said, you know, this is politically motivated right there. There are others who have said, well, she should have known better, right? Like she should have expected this. We get taught this long, you know, early in our lives that you're going to be under extreme scrutiny. And this really is an unforced error.

And then there are other folks who are just really wanted to hear it, see it all play out, right? They're really wanting to not rush to judgment, and just see how it plays out.

BLACKWELL: Well, she certainly spoke for herself this week. And Nathan Wade spoke for himself as well. We'll see what the judge decides. But I thank you for that context because often we have this conversation without that element of it. Terrica Redfield Ganzy, thank you so much.

GANZY: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Coming up we'll speak to a bishop who says he prayed with Fani Willis before testimony and we'll talk about why his church and another major denomination are now teaming up in this unprecedented way this election year. Plus, you got to listen to this. An attorney who was once involved in the Young Thug YSL Gang trial attorney now has been arrested on gang charges herself. It is a mess. We'll explain it.



BLACKWELL: Question, is the black church the political and social engine that it was 20, 30, 60 years ago? Now attendance and membership have slipped over time across races and denominations. But when the pastors and deacons get out of the sanctuary, can they get black voters to the polls? Well, two of the largest church denominations here in Georgia see the challenge. And they're coming together for the first time to coordinate on voter outreach. It's a partnership that could soon move nationwide.

With me now is Bishop Reginald Thomas Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His Church is now going to work with a Christian Methodist Episcopal Church to try to get voters out. Thank you for being here first.


BLACKWELL: So I read that you told the New York Times and the black church and I wrote this down has not been persistent or consistent in motivating and educating our community on the issues that affect them. Has the church abdicated that role or do black people just not come to the church for that anymore?

JACKSON: I think it's a combination of both. The greatest period of growth in the history of the black church was really during the Civil Rights Movement. Because the black church was actively involved. In fact that leadership in a movement came from the black church. Over the last 40 years or so, we have abdicated much of that leadership. And I think we have to take it back.


BLACKWELL: I'm surprised that this -- this is a new thing that the AME and the CME churches have to I guess make an effort to work together when we see that some of the white denominations, the Protestant denominations do that in our powerhouse for the GOP. Why has this not happened before now?

JACKSON: Well, in fact, this really is not new. In fact, in the 2020, election and 2022, a host of us are different organizations, AME, CME Church of God in Christ, but we work together. In fact, 2020, you saw a tremendous turnout of black voters. But with the CMEs in the AME, this year, we just decided we wanted to make a form of Pac, because this is a critically important election. And it's important that we turn out the vote. And I think this is also an opportunity for the black church to prove itself again, to say what we did before we can do it again.

BLACKWELL: Black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, here in Georgia and nationally, is this an effort to get black voters to the polls? Or is this an effort to get black voters to the polls for Joe Biden?

JACKSON: This is an effort to get black voters to the polls to vote in their best interest. Again, major part of this is going to be education, and mobilization. Vote in your best interest, for example, I've heard all over by blacks are not going to turn out. They're angry. They're discouraged. They want to know why the promises made. We're not kept. Let's see, we've done a lousy job of informing and educating our people. For example, in terms of monies for HBCU. In terms of judges hold both

host of things, blacks and made progress, but they raised the question, what happened to police reform? What happened to school loans? But the fact of the matter is, somebody needs to say to our community. The reason these weren't done is because we didn't have the votes. And the only way we're going to get the votes is if you go to the polls and elect people who reflect our interest.

BLACKWELL: I told everyone at the top that attendance is down, Let's put up what we know from the latest Gallup poll. 2003, 41% responded that in the last seven days, they've gone to some place of worship. That was that number actually 41%. It's not from 1939. It's also from 2003. 20 years later, it was 31%, down 10%. So you can't wait for him to come to you.

JACKSON: No. In fact, the challenge is we have to go to them. And for example, a major problem is where many of our churches are the people who live across the street and up the street have no relationship with those churches. And the fact of the matter is, if you provide something people need, they'll come get it. And when people see that the black church cares, and is active in their communities, they will come that single mom trying to raise three children wants to know what does this church offer to help me raise my children?

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about Fani Willis. The district attorney here in Fulton County, you prayed with her Thursday, before that fiery testimony in that case. How was she before that? Tell me about that moment in the morning.

JACKSON: Well, I spoke with her because I just wanted to give her a word of encouragement. I was pleased. She didn't even correct me. She was ready. In fact, she was eager to testify. And I'm not sure that people have any idea of what Fani Willis has gone through over the last several years. Not able to live in our house. Go out to eat. Go to a movie. Have guests. It's been a very lonely time. But she was eager and she was ready. And I think she represented herself well.

BLACKWELL: All right, Bishop. Thank you so much for coming in.

JACKSON: You're certainly welcome glad to be with you.

Br All right. Coming up, an attorney who called herself this got proof on social media is now facing charges herself. Her connection to a trial that's been getting national attention. That's next.


BLACKWELL: If you've been following the YSL trial here at Atlanta, you know, it has been complicated if you haven't, let me catch you up. More than two dozen defendants. First Amendment questions about rap lyrics is evidence. And now an attorney who was representing someone initially indicted with rapper Young Thug has been arrested herself in a separate case. Atlanta police say that Nicole Fegan contacted a shooting suspect she was not representing told them that there were active warrants for his arrest and suggested he get rid of his phone. Christina Lee is here she's been covering the YSL trial and co-hosts the podcast King Slime, the prosecution of Young Thug and YSL.

Christina, this is hard to believe, right that this has happened for me, not you because you've been following so closely, right?


BLACKWELL: But first, tell me about Nicole Fegan and her role in this case?

LEE: Yes. Absolutely. So Nicole Fegan was representing to Aquarius's mentor whose case has been severed from the trial and this was before the trial had officially began. The reason why was because she was one of two attorneys who became pregnant and therefore wasn't sure whether she'd be able to serve the entire time. So into Aquarius menders case was severed, but then in the meantime, of course, like she's still connected to this trial, you know, for all these reasons, so yes.

BLACKWELL: What she accused of in this other case relate to this double shooting.

LEE: So she is accused of basically tipping off a suspect, you know, basically saying like, hey, the police is going to come after you might want to watch out. This isn't somebody who she was representing, but it still represents a conflict of interest in this case.

BLACKWELL: So we went and checked her social media and it seems like she -- I guess runs into former clients occasionally. Here is Nicole Fegan.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is nothing better than when you walk out of the gas station and somebody be like are unico and you know, real world I live in I don't even be one to claim myself sometimes. But then when he's like, you might not remember because it was long time ago but you got me How to jail that makes you feel good.



BLACKWELL: I don't even want to be clever myself sometimes, she said. That did not age well. She's not the first attorney associated with this case to be arrested, though.

LEE: No, she is not. As far as I can remember, like, there was at least one other defense attorney who was arrested at the courthouse for bringing prescription medication inside in an unlabeled container, nevermind that the prescription was actually to him.


LEE: So he was arrested. But I mean, and that's on top of like, I guess the judges who've been reprimanded for misconduct for just not showing up in time who have been ordered by the judge to order, you know, lunch for, you know, the entire defense attorney team like, so to me, it's funny, you say this is crazy. I say this is typical for the wise old child.

BLACKWELL: So the wise old child, I mean, they were arrested, when was this, 21 months ago, Young Thug was arrested?

LEE: Right. May 2022.

BLACKWELL: May 2022, jury seated in November. Why is this taking so long?

LEE: OK. Well, so --

BLACKWELL: That is the beginning of a fantastic answer, by the way.

LEE: Well, you're talking 26 defendants told, I mean, there's six in the courtroom right now. We're still talking about 56 counts in this fairly sprawling RICO indictment. And I know there was concerns in the beginning about song lyrics and social media being admitted criminal evidence, for all the reasons I think that people talked about before is hip hop going to be on trial. What I've been seeing over the past couple of weeks is that when you also admit that as evidence, it bogs down the proceedings by a lot, so instead of talking about like specific incidents and specific crimes, the trial has focused so much on these overt acts that are supposed to speak to the, quote unquote, criminal mindset of Young Thug.

And so over the past couple of weeks alone, I've seen more discussion over whether to admit a Tiny Desk concert, that Young Thug performed in 2021, than any one specific crime.

BLACKWELL: So this is obviously the second most well-known RICO case here in Fulton County, the first being the Trump case and all of his co-defendants. How, if at all, does the handling of that case, inform what we should expect in the Trump case?

LEE: I mean, to start both cases have a lot of drama, obviously. And it was interesting because the YSL indictment preceded the Trump indictment, but it certainly set the tone for finding well as being elected as district attorney, you know, she came out the gate basically saying, like, I have more RICO cases than Atlanta has seen, you know, over the past decade or so. And this was before Trump was indicted.

And so like, I think the both cases so that she came out, you know, like, with like, a set intention to make her known in case with the YSL trial to target a criminal street gang activity here in the city. But of course, as we seen, you know, there's so many other implications that come with both of these cases. And also we're seeing in both cases, how social media in particular ends up being overt acts when you're talking about a RICO indictment these days.

BLACKWELL: It's a lot there. Christina Lee, thanks for helping us understand it.

LEE: Thank you so much, Victor. BLACKWELL: All right, still ahead, the problem with Donald Trump's latest claim about a new form of crime. We'll set everything straight.



BLACKWELL: Demonizing migrants for political purposes is not new to Donald Trump's playbook. Listen, it's not new to America's playbook. But I want to talk to you about this moment that maybe you missed this week in all the news about the former president.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a new form of crime now, you have migrant crime. Migrants are trying to beat up our police officers. They're trying to do things that we've never seen before actually. We are going to have a problem with I call it Biden migrant crime.


BLACKWELL: He's trying to seize on stories like the case of a group of migrants who police say assaulted two NYPD officers near Times Square. Well, New York Mayor Eric Adams made the point to say this.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK: You overwhelming number of his 170,000, they want to finish their next leg of their journey in pursuing the American dream. But there is a small minority that's participating in illegal behavior. The overwhelming number of migrants and asylum seekers are law abiding, and they're pursuing the American dream.


BLACKWELL: This week, CNN spoke with two experts who wrote the book on immigration and crime. The book is literally called Immigration and Crime. Charis Kubrin who has studied this for decades told us, the most common finding across all these different kinds of studies is that immigration to an area is either not associated with crime in that area or is negatively associated with crime in that area, meaning more immigration equals less crime. She goes on to say this, if the story is not why are these migrants committing these crimes against police officers? It's how is it that thousands and thousands and thousands of migrants with these conditions are coming and not engaging in crime.

What we can say for certain is that the rhetoric is dangerous. Immigrant communities are afraid that people will retaliate, motivated by Trump's claims. Immigration and crime, they are both major issues in the 2024 campaign. They both need solutions, but politicians should rethink making those issues appear to be one in the same.

[08:39:47] Still ahead, the new film sharing what it's like to attend historic and increasingly rare black boarding school.


BLACKWELL: So the best part of this job, really, are the introductions. The people in places I learned about through this job. And I had one yesterday. I watched a documentary about a black boarding school just outside Jackson, Mississippi. Now before school desegregation, there were more than 100 black boarding schools in this country. Now there are just four, Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, Pine Forge Academy in Pennsylvania, Redemption Christian Academy in New York and Piney Woods in Mississippi. The documentary was a Piney Woods -- the documentary is not out yet. I got the perk of being able to see it early, but the documentary is coming. And it gives us the history and immerses us in the lives of the students and staff who talk about the joys and challenges. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of our young people, they're searching for their place in the world. They want to be seen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still prioritize education. It's a way of proving people wrong. It's a way of showing myself that I can do better than what I was told that I could do.


BLACKWELL: With me now to discuss, "Sacred Soil: The Piney Woods School Story" is filmmaker J.J. Anderson and Dr. Will Crossley, the school's president and CEO. Welcome to you both. You all have done a thing not just through the education, but through this film. Dr. Crossley, I want to start with you. And I was wondering where it started. You say in this film, we will find a way or we will make one. It really was a moment of punctuation. Tell me about Piney Woods from that perspective?

DR. WILL CROSSLEY, PRESIDENT AND GRADUATE OF THE PINEY WOODS SCHOOL: Well, I thank you for having us on in person, delight to be with you. And thank you for helping us to share our story. That thought process that we shared in the film is really the epitome of who Piney Woods has always been when education wasn't available for African Americans. Laurence Jones came here and started this work with that determination.

And so it's that perseverance, it's that resilience that really is the epitome of who we are. And so just really excited that we can share a little bit of our story with the rest of the world.

BLACKWELL: J.J., what attracted you to this story and to the school?

J.J. ANDERSON, DIRECTOR, "SACRED SOIL: THE PINEY WOODS SCHOOL STORY": Yes, absolutely. Victor, like you said, I was really shocked to learn that there were only four black boarding schools left when they were over 100 prior to 1954. And my father went to a black boarding school called Blacks Academy, which was one of those schools that closed down and he had such fun, strong memories about this school.

What attracted me to Piney Woods in particular was their mission and their approach. Piney Woods believes in developing a child head, hearts and hands, right? So when they're looking to develop a kid, they're not just thinking about the classroom, they're thinking about developing empathy, accountability, serious critical thinking skills, right? And then there's also this wonderful other facet that they have, which is a strong agricultural program.

In 1920, about 14 percent of farmers were black. And today only 1 percent are, right? So the idea of continuing this ritual, this legacy, and teaching children about self-sustainability and communal sustainability in such a major way, that's what really attracted me to Piney Woods.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Crossley, there's another line. I'm watching and writing the whole time, after I harvest what I put into the soil, the soil will be better than when I found it. That agricultural element and the relation to society, the metaphor of using your hands to plant and grow the community, pull that thread for me.

CROSSLEY: Yes, no. It's I think it's what we should all be striving for. And we're simply doing it with our young people. And we're seeing them do it, you know. Our hope is that we don't just sustain what we have, but that it becomes regenerative that it is better than it was when we found it. And we want that to happen with the soil, through our agricultural program. But we want that to happen with our communities, that our young people will become leaders in their communities.

And so as they go out, and to make the world a better place, that it's not just about me getting my own, but it's about ensuring that I can have a larger impact on society that we think is what Piney Woods has always been about. And we actually see our young people doing that already. And so I hope you can see that come through when you watch our young people in this documentary.

BLACKWELL: We have talked Dr. Crossley on this show about the challenges as it relates to funding and finances for HBCUs. But there was a student who left at the end of the school year, and he said that people don't get back to black communities, especially black schools. If it were not all black, the campus would be thriving. Tell me about the challenges and if you agree with that, but the challenges specifically that this school faces, and just to keep it open and keep it competitive.

CROSSLEY: Yes. And so, you know, it's a weird -- this is our 115th year. We're excited to still be here doing the work. Part of the work that we have done is to understand that we're in control of what happens moving forward in this space. And so when we have these kinds of challenges and the challenges he's talking about, facilities challenges, challenges with having some of the equipment and supplies that we might want to do to do some of the work for our young people. Those are challenges that we have been privileged to have donors step up and help us with but there are challenges that remain.


Our goal would be that no young person would leave the space, a space that you can see in that young man that you talked about, a space that the young people love, that no young person leave this space because there's not the resources to do the work they'd like to do.

BLACKWELL: J.J., I was watching the documentary. And in the beginning, it really is an immersion into their day in their life. I was waiting for someone to turn to me and say 115 years ago, this school was founded. It was not that. I mean, interspersing the history and the pictures and the archive with the present, it gave me the feel of, you know, the first time you listened to "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," and you hear those students talk about love.

ANDERSON: Oh, my God.

BLACKWELL: I felt that.

ANDERSON: Victor, so that was, yes, that was a reference that went on, on every leg of the trip. That was, you know, we played it back to back. And it was definitely something that we kept in mind as we were filming. But yes, this isn't, to your point, this isn't your typical documentary. I definitely could have gone that route, right? But I think that our histories are so passionately and richly written, we can go and find them, we can go and read about them. And yet it seems that we are still struggling to find resources to retain, to be able to pay our teachers, right?

And so I wanted to try a different approach. And I wanted to try an approach that would communicate to those who haven't been able to have the experience of going to a -- in a historical black educational institution of why these institutions are so important.

BLACKWELL: Well, you --

ANDERSON: Right? And so, right, yes.

BLACKWELL: You certainly did that. J.J. Anderson, Dr. Will Crossley, thank you so much. "Sacred Soil: The Piney Woods School Story" is out February 23rd. Find this film. Find this school. We need these spaces.

All right still ahead, an artists that's getting his whole town involved in raising arts funding for kids in his community.

Plus, Beyonce and why the backlash to her new country music is ignorant of history.



BLACKWELL: There is not enough funding for art classes in U.S. schools and they're often first to get cut in education budgets. Robert Peterson wants to change that and is rallying his town around the issue. I spoke to him about how those around him inspire his work for this week's art is life.


ROBERT PETERSON, INTERNATIONAL CONTEMPORARY ARTIST: My name is Robert Peterson. I live in Lawton, Oklahoma. And I'm an international contemporary artist. I am completely self-taught. I picked up a paintbrush for the first time in 2012. I didn't know how to mix your colors that you would use to do skin tone. I poured everything out onto the palette that came in the little paint set that I had purchased at the time.

And eventually it just evolved into what you see now. You'll see a lot of the different shades of blues and teals and purples and stuff like that in my work. So represents peace, but it also at the same time can represent like pain. Something that I believe is strong within black people. A lot of the subjects that I use for references for the painting are neighbors, friends, family, neighbors, people here in Oklahoma.

When you look at my work, you'll see durags. For me what durags represent, they represent crowns. I remember being young, I had here, I don't anymore. But you would put the wave cap on and what would happen is when you put it on and your waves of glow around your head, it created what was called a crown. And so when I do that, that's just a way of me, you know, honoring the men that I feel should be respected and admired in the same way that, you know, kings and princes and queens and princesses were, you know, are honored and respected.


BLACKWELL: Well, next Saturday, February 24th, will be the first annual Robert Peterson day in Lawton. And Robert says that they'll celebrate by raising money for the local Art Council. For more information check out Robert on Instagram or at

Well, "Texas Hold 'Em" and "16 carriages" are the first tracks released from Beyonce's forthcoming country album out next month. The TikTok dances have begun and so have the controversies. A country radio station in Oklahoma was forced to reverse a ban on the new music because of the overwhelming response. And some are going further than rejecting the music.

John Schneider, a country music artists who played Bo Duke on "Dukes of Hazzard," he compared Beyonce to a dog peeing on a tree to mark territory. Now a Texan who's released country music before to now release a country album is not outrageous anymore than David Bowie, who released the soul and R&B album or Dolly Parton, whose new album is rock. Schneider bemoans lefties encroaching on country music.

Yes, Beyonce has supportive Democratic candidates, but so of Willie Nelson, and Garth Brooks, and Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. But what is different about Beyonce? When Ray Charles announced that he would release a country album I'm talking 60 years ago, he was slurred too. But modern sounds and country and Western music is a classic. It went on to sell a half million copies and was nominated for four Grammys including Album of the Year.


And like that country album was an education for Ray Charles time, no doubt, Beyonce's album will be an education for hours about the true origins of country music, and perhaps, who really peed and called the music their own.

Thanks for joining me today. I'll see you back here next Saturday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. Smerconish is up next.