Good but not great: Wilson’s proposed name doesn’t do justice to the community

Sarah Ghirmay-Morgan

The students and staff at Wilson, as well as community members and alumni, have waited three months past the expected announcement date for our school’s new name. While I am gratified that the chosen name will represent Black excellence, I know we could have done better.

Choosing the name August Wilson is, simply put, a cop-out. It allows us to put a random famous Black man’s name on a DC public school, despite the fact that he has very little connection to DC or the Wilson community. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. His connection to Wilson is that he shares a name with the racist president it was originally named after. You know who I’m talking about. 

The only true interaction many kids of the District have with August Wilson is a ninth-grade English lesson. He is great representation for our curriculum, but has no involvement in our history, our activism, or our fight for change, making him a mediocre pick for one of our schools. 

This is change, sure, but can’t we push for more? Can’t we make it so that the name is something new, something that shows the world how committed we are to making a difference? A name that shows our respect for teachers, our respect for staff, our acknowledgment of the hard work that Black teachers like Edna B. Jackson and principals and superintendents like Vincent Reed put in for equality? To me, the name August Wilson shows our commitment to saving money on signage.

It took a lot of effort and time to get to this point; years of work put in by the DC History and Justice Collective, passionate students, teachers, and alumni. I’ve been organizing and advocating for a change to Wilson’s name for only a year, and this feels like a slap in the face. To receive a name that “retain[s] the toxic Wilson brand at the cost of elevating [two] Black DC educators, Edna Jackson [and] Vince Reed,” in the words of the DC History and Justice Collective on Twitter, is disrespectful. 

DCPS claims that they’re following public input, stating that August Wilson is the “overall preferred name.” But when putting survey results into perspective, people who wanted a name that connected to Wilson’s history split the vote between Vincent Reed and Edna B. Jackson, accumulating to 36 percent, 7 percent more than August Wilson’s 29.

Granted, August Wilson is in fact a Black person, and we can at least acknowledge the Black people who used to live in Reno City by using the name of a Black man. I can at least breathe easier knowing that the name on my diploma won’t represent the legacy of a racist, knowing that instead, that the name placed there will represent someone who devoted his life to telling Black stories.

While the above is true, it is still paramount to remember that when engaging in activism and committing to making a difference in our communities, we don’t proceed with superficial or feeble attempts. Choosing August Wilson to replace Woodrow Wilson’s name is lazy and completely neglects the goal to separate the school from the latter’s legacy. But at least it’s slightly better than Northwest. Just slightly.