2015: At last, we talked race

(CNN)The issue of race took center stage in 2015 in old and new ways -- from questions about policing in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Chicago and elsewhere to a gunman's massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Our first black president was judged with every word he said -- and those he didn't. And the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, reminded us that when it comes to race, we've come a long way -- and have far to go.

The Inner Harbor was once a haven for a burgeoning black middle class in Baltimore.
CNN's John Blake grew up in the Baltimore community rocked by protests over the death of a young black man in police custody. "It's surreal to see your old neighborhood go up in flames as commentators try to explain the rage with various complex racial and legal theories," he writes. But when Blake returned to his home, the rage made sense: The older black men were gone, and "The Lord of the Flies" had taken over. Later, as the first trial of six police officers charged in Freddie Gray's death began, Blake explored two issues: why black political power isn't enough in cities like Baltimore and why nicknames matter in his old hometown.
    Jerome and Cathy Jenkins, at Cathy's Kitchen, one of their two restaurants
    Ferguson continued to be a symbol of the nation's racial issues in 2015. CNN's Moni Basu, who covered the 2014 unrest after Michael Brown's death by police, returned ahead of the one-year anniversary and asked some of the city's residents to show her their Ferguson. The anniversary also put a spotlight on "The Disruptors," those activists and allies mobilizing through social media to agitate for change.
    No one is ever a racist, judging by the parade of apologies from celebrities, politicians and police officers caught acting in apparently racially offensive ways. But here's a thought, CNN's John Blake asks: What if a white person called out for such behavior instead said, "What I did was racist, and there's no other excuse. I was wrong." Is the American public ready for that? Has any public figure ever successfully made such an admission?
    Barack Obama is seen as one of the most polarizing presidents in American history, according to numerous polls. Much of that polarization revolves around race. The author Ishmael Reed calls Obama the Exorcist in Chief, someone whose mere presence in the Oval Office summoned "all the demons of American racism." What's going to happen to those demons, though, once Obama leaves office? Will racial tensions ease once his term ends? Or is racial strife the new normal?
    Tamir Brooks, right, and Sami Wylie look out the windows of the 1947 bus their team traveled on.
    For 23 days starting in June, the Anderson Monarchs hit the road in a vintage 1947 bus for a civil rights barnstorming tour that took them from their Philadelphia home to D.C. and Atlanta before rolling into Selma and across the Deep South. The group of 13- and 14-year-olds, most of them African-American, included athletes who went to the 2014 Little League World Series. Among them was pitching phenom Mo'ne Davis. CNN's Jessica Ravitz followed them as they set out to play some ball and, more significantly, make history real. And as the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina, she visited with a Charleston girl who was grappling with racial history and with a church as it started a new chapter in its storied history.
    Alabama state troopers attack marchers in Selma during "Bloody Sunday" in 1965.
    When the nation marked the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" and the civil rights campaign in Selma, many focused on the pivotal moments that sparked the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But what about the long-term campaign that was launched against the Voting Rights Act just weeks after its passage? CNN's John Blake asks: Is Martin Luther King Jr.'s greatest victory being undone?