Perspective on name options vary

Madison Dias

Wilson’s new name is up for debate. Although many stakeholders support the renaming, there are conflicting views on what the criteria for the new name should be.

Principal Kimberly Martin was one of twelve Wilson members selected to choose finalists out of the 2,000 plus suggestions. According to Martin, when the committee met, “one of the things that [they] thought about was should it be someone that has ties to DC? Did they have to be born here? Did they have to have influence here?” They “debated about a ton of criteria and so sometimes people got distanced for reasons even though sometimes another person wouldn’t get distanced for the same criteria,” Martin said. 

Students reflect an array of different sentiments; many support August Wilson. Junior Jahari Miller voted for August Wilson “because if we changed ‘Wilson,’ all of the sports would have to get new uniforms.” Junior Kenadi Burnett believes that “August Wilson is the only name that makes sense. Nothing else really comes close. [She] can’t imagine saying that [she] goes to a different school other than Wilson.” Burnett also includes that, “after reading the Beacon’s endorsement of Edna Jackson, [she] understands the option and would not mind that choice either.” After acknowledging her connection to D.C. Sophomore London Lawson chose Northwest “because it sounds tuff.”

The list also received backlash from students, “The [candidates] are terrible. We can do better,” sophomore Torrez Choice said. Junior Abigail Patrick-Dooling doesn’t support changing the name to August Wilson, her reasoning being, “if you keep the name ‘Wilson’ and replace it with a different first name, not enough is being changed.” 

Alumni too express diverse opinions. Mary Giffin, class of 1973, is an active board member of the Woodrow Wilson High School Alumni Association. According to Giffin, the association, “does not take a position,” because of their diverse opinions. In a survey taken last year, generally, members of that association that graduated prior to the 70s did not want to change the name while many members who graduated post 70s desired a name change. 

Giffin personally supports the name change. “I was most interested in Reed, Edna Jackson, and I also liked Reno City. I think Reno City would have been really cool,” Giffin said. 

Giffin explains that she was “a little bit surprised at the short list.” During a recent Woodrow Wilson High School Alumni Association board meeting, attendees “discussed the names and one of the things we all shared with each other is it was not clear how these names were arrived at. It’s unfortunate not to be transparent about what that process was.” 

Alumni Ricardo Sheler, class of 2020, claims that he did not have a “visceral reaction” to the list of candidates, recognizing that “none of us really know the legacies of these people.” He notes that “a lot of local figures who’ve done a lot of good work go unrecognized, [their nominations] are a way to acknowledge them.” 

Sheler appreciates ‘Northwest’ as a neutral name, “there is some conversation you can have about honoring people’s legacies after the fact… we never know how people will be remembered 50 years down the line.” However Sheler believes that “naming Wilson ‘Northwest’ would strip it of something.”

“For the name, I was thinking what will kind of make the school feel the same with a different context,” Sheler said. He acknowledges that the “culture of the people in the school” have been divorced from Woodrow Wilson’s ideologies and therefore believes it would be easy to switch the context of his name. Although August Wilson has no direct ties to DCPS, Sheler believes that recognition of him and his contributions to the arts and academia is an important part of Wilson.

Additionally, “naming the school after him instead would be a way to have continuity for the school [especially for alumni],” said Sheler. 

Judith Ingram, current Wilson parent, neighbor of Wilson High School, and cofounder of the DC History and Justice Collective shares her input on the process: “[It] has been a little bit uneven. One of the disappointments from our part was that as far as I know there weren’t any historians on this committee that was created… it seemed to be a committee that was thrown together with representatives of different stakeholders.”

“My own candidate is a hyphenated name,” Ingram said. It would be a combination of Edna Jackson and Vincent Reed. “However, the committee said the hyphen is too confusing so they rejected that name for the school. [My first choice] would be Edna Jackson [who] had an extraordinary career as an educator. My second would be Reed who broke a lot of barriers,” Ingram said. “The combination of two educators who stand for everything DCPS should want in a leader and educators who themselves put students first, it’s a strong message. I think either Edna Jackson or Vincent Reed would be a wonderful name.”

Social Studies teacher Robert Geremia also endorses Edna B. Jackson, “I would like to see our school named for a Black woman. Black women and their contributions to our government, our society, and our culture are shamefully overlooked and this needs to change now. As a teacher, I would like to honor Edna B. Jackson because she was the first Black teacher at Wilson.” According to Martin, the committee was “literally intentional about having a woman of color on the list.”

 Geremia does not believe that August Wilson or Northwest are great options, “There are several high schools located in Northwest DC… it should be specific to this neighborhood.” He also recognizes that August Wilson has no connection to Washington, DC. Overall, Geremia believes that, “Most of the names embody the ideals we hope to teach our students: democracy and anti-racism.”

With public input closed, it is now up to Mayor Muriel Bowser and Chancellor Lewis Ferebee to select the new name by the end of 2020.