A Different Higher Ed Debt: Black Neighborhood ‘Uprooted’ for University Expansion

Descendants of a once up and coming Black community in Virginia are still affected by the government officials who abused eminent domain to remove their families and build a university. Brandi Kellam, part of the investigative reporting team who won the grand prize at this year’s EWA Awards ceremony, gives a behind-the-scenes look into the lasting impact of this government decision. (EWA Radio 345)

Photo credits: Christopher Tyree/VCIJ at WHRO, James Minichello of AASA for EWA


In Newport News, Virginia, the Black-owned neighborhood of Johnson Terrace was a thriving community until government officials used eminent domain to seize the land and expand a university. 

Brandi Kellam of the Virginia Center for Investigative Reporting at WHRO spent two years digging into archives and building trust with the Johnson family. Along with her VCIR colleague Louis Hansen and Gabriel Sandoval, formerly of ProPublica, Kellam won the 2023 Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize this year at EWA’s National Awards for Education Reporting.

She shares the backstory to the project and lessons for other journalists looking to combine historical research, data mining and narrative storytelling.

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