Student leaders choose Ida B. Wells-Barnett as new high school namesake

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Air date: 
Tue, 02/02/2021 - 5:30pm to 5:45pm


The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests sparked calls to rename schools and remove statues of past slave owners. Last week, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was officially chosen as the new namesake for Southwest Portland’s Wilson High School, after a years-long push by students and alumni to change the name. 

Wells-Barnett was an accomplished investigative journalist and activist who was born into slavery during the Civil War. She co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the first Black women's suffrage association.

After collecting community feedback, the renaming committee—composed of students, staff and community members—decided they wanted to name the school after a Black woman, and came up with five finalists. They ultimately decided on Wells-Barnett because she actively worked against Woodrow Wilson, the school’s former namesake, and the racist policies he supported.

This recent name change is just one element of the school’s efforts to fight for racial equity. Students also participate in the Allied Wilson Advocates for Racial Equity, or AWARE, and the No Place for Hate program with the Anti-Defamation League, which trains students on how to teach others to be allies and address social inequities.

KBOO's Hanna Merzbach spoke with two student leaders, Mia Sedory, and Katisyn Sweeny, the school's vice principal Ayesha Coning, and their community ally on the project, Holly Pruett, to learn more. 

In the wake of the approval of the high school’s new name, these peer facilitators will lead a virtual Community Conversation About Race for free on Wednesday, Feb. 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. The event is open to anyone. Register by 2 p.m. on Feb. 3 here.

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