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Henrico teens rally against racism, want school to dump 'Rebels' nickname

'The main thing young people can do is to get adults to care'
Posted at 6:03 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 18:48:54-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- About 100 teens and some of their parents rallied outside Douglas S. Freeman High School in Tuckahoe Friday afternoon to call for racial equality.

"The reason that we are all here is because as young people, we feel the need to peacefully speak out about the systematic racism that continues to manifest itself in every corner of our nation," one of the coordinators told the crowd during the student protest.

The students came to the school, which has been shuttered since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, on a mission to support the Black Lives Matter movement and to let administrators know how they feel about their school's “Rebels” nickname.

Eleventh grader De'Ovionne Davis-Ruffiwhich called the moniker disgraceful.

"I mean it's been here for years. I guess it's time to let it go," Davis-Ruffiwhich said.

RELATED: Freeman High asks community to mull 'Rebels' nickname

Senior Ola Akinsanya said the group's youth does not hamper, but motivate their efforts.

"Because I feel like if you're silent, you're part of the problem," Akinsanya said.

The student protesters said that their age does not hamper them.

"We're the future and we're going o be the future doctors, politicians, nurses, teachers," Akinsanya pointed out. "So if we make a change now, it's going to be easier to carry on with it."

Akinsanya also said she hopes others lend their voice to the cause.

"Because I feel like if you're silent, you're part of the problem," Akinsanya said.

Most in attendance, like tenth grader Henry Haggard, believe they can make a difference.

"I think the main thing young people can do is to get adults to care," Haggard said.

Haggard spent days making a huge display to point out that the numbers and statistics have names.

"These are the names of people killed by police in the United States over the past couple of years and I think there are far too many," Haggard. said.

Freeman High asks community to mull 'Rebels' nickname

School district officials asking for help as they weigh the fate of Freeman High's “Rebels” nickname.

In an email message Thursday, Douglas Freeman Principal John Marshall said "this moment in our nation’s history demands that we ask if our symbols and language reflect our core values.”

“In this spirit, hundreds of our students, alumni, families and community members have written over the past few weeks expressing their view that now is the time to change Freeman’s mascot," Marshall said.

As a result, the district is seeking input from students, families, alumni and the community about the nickname, which Marshall said some see as a name for those “who use our talents to challenge the status quo and change the world.” However, others feel it is an archaic, “dividing and unwelcoming force for many students,"
according to Marshall.

“There have been petitions and student-led calls for a mascot change, and just as many petitions and calls for keeping it," Marshall said. "However, there has not been a public, school-led, formal examination of the topic until today."

Officials said a committee of community members, students and staff will review the feedback and make a report "that will be a basis for community dialogue."

Additionally, the high school's administration will work closely with superintendent and school board.

The 66-year-old school has not used an actual mascot for "many years," officials noted, but an interlocking “DSF” logo.

Douglas Southall Freeman, a Richmond historian, author and journalist, won Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of both Robert E. Lee and George Washington.

But "the school’s nickname was likely inspired by his Confederate subjects," district officials noted.

“Douglas Freeman High School is a model in many ways, and this moment gives us another opportunity to lead," Marshall said. "I am optimistic about our ability to have this conversation as a Freeman Family, and model how a community should have such a dialogue."

Click here to send your feedback about the nickname to Henrico County Public Schools.