Select Community stakeholders press for a DC Council Hearing

The DC History and Justice Collective urged the DC Council to hold a hearing to   reconsider the proposal to name the school after August Wilson. Other community members contacted Chairman Phil Mendelson, demonstrating their support for the name.

In an announcement made on April 20, Chancellor Lewis Ferebee proposed to rename Woodrow Wilson High School to August Wilson High School in an email to Wilson stakeholders. 

In their request for a hearing on May 17, DC History and Justice Collective Co-founders Tim Hannapel and Judith Ingram recalled the lengthy process of the name change and reminded Chair Mendelson of the Committee of the Whole’s mandate to DCPS regarding the name change.

“The Committee urges that DCPS follow the guidance of this report: choose a name that honors an individual, event, or place, that has support of the community, and that is inspirational for students to come.” The letter goes on to note the inadequacy of the name August Wilson in meeting this criteria, instead proposing Vincent Reed or Edna Jackson. 

The letter continues to state the opinion of the DC History and Justice Collective against August Wilson as well as in favor of Vincent Reed and Edna Jackson. In support of Jackson and Reed, the letter cites the connection of the two educators to the school, the strong community connection—through alumni, teacher, and student support—as well as their combined 36 percent of votes in the community survey run by DCPS.

While the DC Council could choose to hold a hearing, it is not required. Hannapel hopes that the hearing will highlight the perspectives and opinions of each candidate for the name change. 

As part of the DC History and Justice Collective, Hannapel and Ingram would aim to provide a series of testimonies in support of Edna Jackson and Vincent Reed. Noting the lack of organized advocacy for August Wilson, Hannapel hopes that proponents of August Wilson defend statements that were echoed in the public interest survey held by DCPS.

“[I]t would be cheaper [to keep the name on uniforms and the building] and Wilson has been known as Wilson for so long.” The quote, garnering the most likes on the community survey, was shocking to Hannapel.  

“If cost and misguided nostalgia are the motivating reasons for DCPS’s choice, they should say so, and be subject to scrutiny on those bases,” added Hannapel and Ingram in their letter.

Out of the 13 members that make up the DC Council, Ward 5 Councilmember and Wilson alum Kenyan R. McDuffie has publicly disapproved of August Wilson as the new name of Woodrow Wilson High School. 

While they are a smaller body of advocates, other members of the Wilson community have publicly supported August Wilson including Drama Director Karen Harris and PTSO member Melody Melinoff. Along with them, Principal Martin advocated for August Wilson, urging members of the community to contact Council Member Mendelson in support. 

Martin expected there to be disagreement over the chosen name. In her newsletter on May 16, she noted that “The critics of the new name are not representative of the majority of people who have shared with me that they are ready to move on.” 

In regards to the process, Martin remarked that the Wilson community had been living in months of “name purgatory.” Talks of the name change had been present since 2015, but were reignited over the summer in light of Black Lives Matter protests. 

Ingram said that “DCPS has really dragged their feet. [It’s] been to the detriment of the process, and it’s made it very hard to keep up the interest in [the name change.]” 

Martin echoes this sentiment, adding that “[The process] has been ongoing for many years, not just many months. I know that I have name-change fatigue. So I am very ready for us to choose a name and move forward.” •