Semaj Moore, photo by Moses Mitchell Photography
When Semaj Moore was a sophomore at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota he and some of his classmates decided to do some research on the school. They found that the school’s namesake and revolutionary leader was also a slave owner. This discovery lit the spark in Semaj to begin the campaign to change the name of the high school.
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In their research Semaj and his classmates found that Patrick Henry owned 68 slaves and upon his death gave them to his family. They also discovered that African American students could not originally attend Patrick Henry High School because African Americans were not allowed to cross Broadway Street and enter the neighborhood where the school is located.
“I remember the day I found out. It took me by surprise. I was wearing my sophomore attire, sweatpants and shirt, and I found out he was a slave owner. I came home and took everything off and I threw all my Patrick Henry gear away,” said Semaj, now a senior. “I knew from the start that this was not just about a name change, I look at it higher than that. It’s what you are capable of doing that revolves around what you are. It’s not just for a name, it’s change for the future.”
“Semaj was empowered by some of the movements happening across the country and with the success of other schools in our area changing their names. The energy was sparked—this could really happen,” said Quinton Bonds, Public Relations Coordinator and Family Liaison at Patrick Henry High School. “Our role as educators is to be a sounding board and help guide that energy when they seek our advice.”
Semaj researched how other students had organized name change campaigns and recruited a core group of classmates. With the help of his mother and advisors Ms. Lovick and Mr. Yarbrough, they began outreach and education efforts with their peers, the staff and the community. They presented to classes and assemblies and received local and national media coverage.
“We’ve encountered some adversity, not everyone is for the name change,” said Semaj. “But we push forward and stay positive. At the end we will prevail and what we are striving for- inclusion– is way more than what they are striving for.”
The team meets weekly to discuss and adjust their plans. In December 2017, they distributed surveys and are taking name recommendations through January. Then they will hold the vote for the new name. After which Semaj and his team will present their proposal to the school board.
“We don’t need the name of someone, but we need something that represents justice and equality and is inclusive,” explained Semaj when asked if he had a name in mind.
In an effort to meet the fundraising challenge so that they will be able to change the school name on signs, murals and athletic equipment, they have launched the #changethename fundraising campaign with t-shirts for sale to students, staff, and community members and a go-fund-me page.
“I’d love to complete this by graduation and I am optimistic, but if I have to, I’ll come back to finish this,” said Semaj. “I feel like whatever the next step and the next challenge is in life, I’ll be able to change that too.”