NEA EdJustice Features

Inspired by national movement, student organizes school name change campaign

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.”

10 responses to “Inspired by national movement, student organizes school name change campaign

  1. I really wish you could hear yourself. Black lives matter? What about the rest of the colors? Why is the issue color? Shouldn’t everyone matter? Now, most likely you have marked me as a bigot. I am not. I understand the Black lives matter movement. However, picking a race makes it racist. Awareness of victims being a higher percentage of non-white is real. However, if I went around and started Brown lives matter or Yellow lives matter, I would be called racist. Racism is when someone places one ethnicity or group above another. Stating that only Black lives matter is serious racist statement because you have place one group over others, ignoring their importance. Again, I know that you think I am the racist one. However, you are wrong. My friends and associates are as different as you and me. See, I don’t describe other by the color of their skin. Color doesn’t matter when friendships and humanity exist. Remember, Everyone matters! Not a specific color, race, gender, and so forth. Until, we as a society, believe and act that everyone matters, racism will thrive. The question is, are you promoting racism or the belief that everyone has value and matters?
    I regret that I can’t provide my name or email because of the society in which we live. For one, you might still think that I am a bigot and reach out in anger towards me. If so, who is the bigot, you, or me. I strive every day to bring hope and equality in my classroom. Every day I show that I care to all, showing everyone matters in my world.

  2. I’m very sad to see the negative comments. I commend Semaj for his initiative and I understand his feelings about going to a school named after someone who owned slaves, even though Patrick Henry played an important part in our history. This is Semaj’s school and the students at a school should feel proud to be a part of it.

  3. I would love to see a variety of races represented in social justice movements. Non-whites are not only Blacks, and yet that’s the only race we hear about in the movement. Do they care about Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans? What about those groups’ roles in U.S. history? What about Europeans (e.g. German Americans) who were mistreated at one time?

  4. The next action will be to tear down anything that suggests illegal aliens are, well, illegal. Might as well get rid of all our laws. Maybe let MS 13 run the country

  5. This is stupid revisionist history. We need to leave history is it was/is. If we change it to suit the current political correctness, we will never learn from it.

    1. They are not changing history. They researched the history and because of the history they have decided to make changes to reflect The values of the community now. They are doing it in a peaceful, systematic way and they are handing out surveys giving everyone a voice. They are leaders of our day making a difference in their community. I say, “Bravo!”

  6. These people are targeting Patrick Henry for doing something that was legal at the time. This is ridiculous. It is not possible to view historical figures by today’s moral standards.

  7. Tear down the Washington and Jefferson Memorials. Mail all your quarters, nickels, $1, $2 and $20 bills to me so I can dispose of them. Burn the Declaration of Independence (over 2/3 of signers were slave owners). Twelve presidents were slave owners. I oppose just about everything MarineBob has posted here, but I am finally going to agree with him. People are a product of their times, and a review of Patrick Henry’s history will attest to his notoriety in the fight for American independence. Here is a letter in which he wrote, “I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be afforded to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we cam do, is to improve it, if It happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot, and an abhorrence of Slavery.” http://www.nytimes.com/1860/07/09/news/the-slave-trade-an-original-letter-from-patrick-henry.html

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