NOLA Public Schools

The Advocate Letters: What’s in a name? A learning opportunity

By: Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr., Superintendent of NOLA Public Schools

Feb. 22, 2021

2020 was a pivotal year. The pandemic and natural disasters were mixed with challenging events that opened up old wounds, renewing attention to conversations around what it means to be Black in America. And while conversations around race and systemic inequities aren’t easy, they are necessary.

It’s our responsibility now to turn heartache into change and pain into action. We have the unique opportunity to do better, to see the urgency of this moment, to acknowledge the realities of our past and to chart a better course toward our future that prioritizes equity and inclusion.

For NOLA Public Schools, that starts with renaming school buildings that bear the names of Confederate or segregationist figures.

This is an important step, one greater than changing signs on buildings. It is about a conversation with our young people about the implications of honoring figures like these.

From our city’s central role in the removal of Confederate statues, to our ties to school integration with Ruby Bridges’ historic walk to class 60 years ago, New Orleans has been at the heart of conversations that have moved our society forward. Yet again, we are called to advance our city, this time by renaming school buildings to better represent our community, students, and the future we are working toward — rather than a past that should not be perpetuated nor repeated.

We have made progress, but the legacy of these problems persists. I have seen it — as a student, as a professional, even as an elected official. Often, I have been the only Black voice in a room. I know that experience wasn’t mine alone.

The stark reality is that millions of Black children start their lives guilty in the eyes of others because of the color of their skin. This is why we must take action to break the cycle. This renaming effort will be a community effort. We need the voices of our neighbors, families, and friends to help guide us through it.

Over the years, NOLA Public Schools has created a more equitable and inclusive district where all students can find success after graduation in college or through a good job. But we cannot stagnate. We remain committed to ensuring future generations understand that equity is their fundamental right.

Renaming school buildings and educating younger generations to our shared history is just one piece of the puzzle, but it is a foundational element. Indeed, it is pivotal to our mission to address the whole child, removing challenges and trauma that create barriers to growth so that students can reach their full potential.

As we look to educate ourselves, our students and neighbors, I know that we will emerge stronger, and the steps we take together today will build a brighter future tomorrow.

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