Nikole was raised in Iowa, “on the wrong side of the river that divided white from black, opportunity from struggle”, and attended a majority-white school as a result of the desegregation policies of that time. She got her Bachelors in History and African-American Studies from the University of Notre Dame and her master’s degree from the University of North Carolina. She began her career in journalism covering schools in Durham, then spent five years in Portland working for The Oregonian, before moving on to ProPublica.
She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and her daughter, Najya. Last year she wrote a New York Times Magazine cover story on how they chose to send their daughter to a lower-income school because they felt they otherwise would become part of the problem Nikole had been documenting all her life.
Nikole believes the inequality that exists in America’s school system is neither accidental, nor incidental. She is known for exploring in depth the intentional decisions that resulted in an inequitable educational system.
“It was socially engineered, and so, therefore, we’re going to have to socially engineer our way out of it.” She first got widespread attention for her answers as to how and why this social engineering happened with her 2014 story, Segregation Now, which she spent more than a year reporting on.
Her work brought her several awards, including the Peabody Award, George Polk Award, National Magazine Award, Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service, and the Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting. She was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists in 2015, and was named to The Root 100 two years in a row. In 2016, Nikole helped found the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, a training and mentorship organization geared towards increasing the number of investigative reporters of color. She is also a 2017 New America Emerson fellow and a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Journalist.
Nikole is now working on a book about school segregation in the United States entitled The Problem We All Live With, to be published on the One World imprint of Penguin/Random House. You can learn more about it on this episode of This American Life.