Latino Activists Protest Renaming Thomas Jefferson Middle School After Barack Obama

Some citizens of the Latino community in the Chicago suburb of Waukegan are protesting the school board, which wants to rename a school named after Thomas Jefferson to be named after Barack Obama.

The Waukegan School Board held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss the matter, and there were plenty of residents there to voice their displeasure at the consideration of naming the school after Obama.

The school board wants to rename the school that bears the name of the author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President because he owned slaves.

But because of Obama’s record on deporting of illegal immigrants, Latinos in Waukegan protested the option.

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The Problem With Naming A School After The Obamas

The most recent census data shows that the student population in the Waukegan Public Schools is roughly 78% Hispanic or Latino. Around 55% of Waukegan residents are Hispanic or Latino, and around 30% of the city’s residents are foreign born.

Julie Contreras, a local activist who was attended the protest said, 

“We feel that Barack Obama disserviced us. He denied us. And he didn’t stop the deportations the way he promised us. If you’re removing the name of Thomas Jefferson, one oppressor, the name of Obama is another oppressor. And our families do not want to see that name.”

Contreras works with a group called United Giving Hope, a group that runs shelters for immigrant children at the southern border.

School Board member Edgar Castellanos, who came to the U.S. as an undocumented child, also came out against the naming of one of the schools after the Obamas. “I will not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community.”

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Obama’s ‘Deporter-in-Chief’ Legacy Riles Latino Community

A report from CNN says that during his presidency, Obama became known as “the deporter-in-chief” among immigration advocacy groups.

This is a title that he may have earned. According to the Cato Institute, Bill Clinton deported 108,706 per year, George W. Bush deported 251,567, Barack Obama deported 383,307, and at the time this report was issued, Donald Trump had been in office two years and had deported 275,725.

School Board President Brandon Ewing, an African-American, said that the idea for name change came up last year after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He added that, “I personally don’t object to the name, but I have to be aware of the concerns.” 

Oscar Arias, a Waukegan native and school district graduate suggested civil rights icon John Lewis.

“As a famous congressman and civil rights activist who marched alongside Dr. King, John Lewis is a much better representation for the community and truly embodies the progressive and multicultural spirit of Waukegan.”

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What Happens Next?

Two other name options the community has to pick from besides John Lewis Middle School are Delores Huerta Middle School, and Cesar Chavez Middle School.

Other possibilities include Edith Smith, who fought to desegregate Waukegan schools, NASA Mathematician Kathrine Johnson, and the first Hispanic woman in space Ellen Ochoa.

The board will officially decide whether or not to change the names on April 13.


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Becky Noble

Becky Noble, a political blogger and writer for over 10 years, lives by the motto, “Being normal is not necessarily a virtue. It rather denotes a lack of courage.” Becky holds a degree in journalism from Regent University.

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