This article was written by Beth Vang
Intense debates ensue as alumni, students and faculty find themselves divided on whether Patrick Henry High School [PHHS] should be renamed and rebranded or kept as it has been since its establishment in 1937.
Testimonies for changing the name started coming from students like Semaj Moore 18’ and Dino Jones 14’, showing that many students were discontented with the fact that their school was named after the American patriot, Patrick Henry.
Henry, who was known by the everyday high school student for his famous speech from 1775, titled “Give me liberty or give me death,” was also revered as a founding father and is often used as a symbol of liberty and freedom.
Until recently, students chanted his name during games and pep rallies believing that they represented him and his legacy of fighting for civil and human rights. However, students started to have second thoughts of whose name they were rallying behind once they learned that Henry had owned over one-hundred slaves on his tobacco farm during his lifetime.
“It is not right that Patrick Henry owned slaves until the day that he died and then gave them away to his children, when they should have been freed before he died,” wrote Jones for the PHHS On Their Shoulders catalog.
In the fall of 2017, the #ChangetheName! campaign group formed for the first time as an entity following the publishing of Moore’s perspective in the local newspaper, and by May of 2018, the group had garnered over a thousand supporters and was already working on getting approval for change from the site council.
The site council’s meeting in May was a historic moment for the campaign members, and was also the first time since the start of the campaign where students and faculty of #ChangetheName! heard directly from the members of the Save the Name campaign group.
“We didn’t anticipate the number of people who wanted to save the name to so quickly organize themselves as well around this name change conversation,” said Janaan Ahmed, a current Junior at PHHS.
The overall conversation quickly turned into a heated debate with both sides arguing their reasons for wanting to change or save the name.
Chase Brenke, a Hip Hop artist and educator who is also an alumnus of PHHS, shared that the Save the Name attendees were suspiciously full of predominantly White alumni who he was not accustomed to seeing at his high school.
“They like to take it upon themselves that they are the voice of all alumni and that this #ChangetheName! movement is something only a few students and their teachers want,” said Brenke, “this is neither new nor is it as surprising as STN [Save the Name] would lead people to believe.”
Brenke further shared that all youths, especially students of PHHS, should get to learn in a safe environment, and not be expected to learn in a school that was named after someone who has oppressed hundreds of Black slaves.
Some alumni who were for saving the name expressed that they felt the #ChangetheName! students were entitling themselves to changing something that meant a lot for generations of graduates without really considering all the angles.
“I think adding to history without taking away names is a positive solution as it teaches what couldn’t happen then due to the times and people who did not get recognized due to the times,” shared Mary Desormeaux, an alumna of PHHS, “We add to the learning experience in order to understand [that] the times were different back then.”
At the end of the night, no decision was made on this debate other than the decision to postpone the discussion for approval. This was not the first time that the deciding vote was postponed until a later date, as it has been pushed back multiple times over the last five months alone.
Part of why the site council has continuously pushed the decision to vote for approval is because Save the Name was able to grow so quickly in such a short amount of time.
Before that site council meeting, news of the #ChangetheName! campaign first reached the alumni early this spring. Emails and letters flooded PHHS’s mailboxes with various concerns on the effects of changing the school’s name and branding.
“People should also consider the time and money that goes into changing a school’s name,” expressed one concerned alumni, “that money could be used to improve other things for the school.”
The official Save the Name group and petition was created in March, and has since then gained over one thousand supporters, both for the petition and inside the group.
“The people who want to save the name have greatly influenced what the site council has been deciding when it comes to the approval,” said Ahmed, “it keeps getting pushed back because in order for our whole community to be equitable, the site council had to hear from both sides equally.”
#ChangetheName! has expressed that they have no plans for a compromise with keeping “Henry” in the name. If approved, the #ChangetheName! campaign plans on using the funds they collected from their fundraiser to assist with completely rebranding and repurchasing merchandise with the new chosen name and mascot.
Save the Name has also shared that they have no plans on losing any part of Patrick Henry in the sake of preserving history in Minneapolis, and if the renaming does not get approved, there may be plans to prioritize budgets on other school needs and projects deemed more important.
The beginning of this next academic year will mark the one-year anniversary of #ChangetheName!, making this one of the longest running campaigns to rename a school. On June 21, the site council held a meeting once more in the Olson Middle School Cafeteria, but an official statement is yet to be released on whether or not the name of Patrick Henry High School is to be permanently changed.