At 16, Dorant Wells has experienced the complexities of what Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation ruling, has wrought: He attended a middle school full of students of different colors and nationalities, but one where he sometimes felt there were lower expectations for black students.
Now at his nearly all African-American high school, Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County, he sees value in the special character of the school, while acknowledging he may be less prepared to enter a diverse world. "It keeps us united. We may not agree on everything, but we have each other," said Dorant.
Sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in 21 states was unconstitutional, diversity is not guaranteed in Maryland's schools. Ten percent of the schools in Maryland have a high percentage of black students, nearly all of them in Baltimore City and Prince George's County, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis. And no political or education leaders are recommending a consolidation of suburban and urban districts that experts say would be needed to truly address an imbalance driven largely by neighborhood demographics.
Instead, the struggle for racial integration and educational equality is taking place in the suburbs, where students are learning in increasingly diverse schools.
Students in these more integrated middle and high schools say they relish the multicultural environments. And while they say there are still daily struggles over issues of race and diversity, such conflicts have made them stronger, more resilient and more socially adept.
"I take diversity very seriously," said Destiny Battle, an African-American eighth-grader at Lansdowne Middle, one of the most diverse schools in Baltimore County. "I like the different races in the classes."
Students learn, the 14-year-old said, that no race is better than another. In her classes she hears viewpoints that are far different from her own and that sometimes make her reconsider the norms in her own culture.
Maryland has the fifth-largest percentage of black enrollment in the nation, according to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. On top of that, a stream of Asians, Hispanics and immigrants from across the world has entered Maryland's public schools in the past decade, and now the majority of students in the state's schools are a member of a minority race. Whites account for 42 percent of enrollment; blacks are at 35 percent.
Outside Baltimore City and Prince George's County, only three districts have any schools with a black population higher than 75 percent, The Sun's analysis showed. In Baltimore County, about 16 percent of the schools are over that level. In Anne Arundel County, it is 1 percent.
There are no schools in Howard, Harford or Carroll counties with a black enrollment as high as 75 percent, but together those districts have nearly 75 schools that are more than 90 percent white. Anne Arundel has 41 nearly all-white schools; Baltimore County has 23.
The state has two schools — Suitland High in Prince George's and Milford Mill — that are considered "apartheid" schools by the Civil Rights Project because they have a white population of less than 1 percent.
Racial isolation has discouraging repercussions, according to Howell Baum, the author of "'Brown' in Baltimore: School Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism." Research shows that students do better educationally in racially and socioeconomically diverse settings, where they are more likely to be afforded opportunities and resources. Those students graduate from high school at higher rates, are less likely to get pregnant as teens or run into issues with the law, and are more likely to attend integrated colleges and work in integrated workplaces, he said.
Middle-class black families benefited most from the Brown ruling because it gave them the opportunity to move to white neighborhoods and put their children in better schools, said Baum, a professor in the urban studies and planning program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The black migration out of the city's Liberty Road corridor now means that some area schools lack racial diversity. For example, enrollment at Milford Mill Academy, which is off Liberty just outside the Baltimore Beltway, is 93 percent African-American. Although the school has nine magnet programs designed to attract top students from around the county, most of those coming to the school are students of color.
Though their school is often viewed as low-achieving, students get into top universities such as Stanford and Yale, said Principal Roderick Harden. A number of top students said they would not change the racial makeup of their school. Jazzlyn Briscoe, 17, said she recognizes that diversity would foster tolerance, but she also said it is easier to be in a predominantly African-American environment.
She recalled a time when she experienced racism outside of school, when someone said: "I wasn't expecting you to be as articulate as you are."
Dipo Adeuyan, 17, likes the school the way it is but recognizes the limitations. "I believe it could hinder me. You have to create healthy relationships" with people of other races, he said. For that reason, he said he might be more likely to attend a majority white college or university.
Harden and his students pointed out that there is a great deal of socioeconomic and cultural diversity within the school. He said his students come from "$500,000 homes and group homes" and while they may all be students of color, they come from Jamaica and Africa and many other backgrounds that fill the school with different perspectives.
Baltimore County schools Superintendent Dallas Dance "is not worried" about the predominantly African-American schools in his system. "You look at Randallstown [High] or Milford Mill, they do mirror the demographics of the neighborhood," he said. School districts across the region said they do not consider racial balance when drawing school boundary lines.