Community Votes to Rename Haight Love

Courtesy alamedainfo.com    This 1911 Haight School building replaced the original Haight School built in 1875.

On Dec. 5, 1867, California Governor Henry Huntly Haight used his inaugural speech to rail against the citizenship and voting rights of formerly enslaved Africans and Asians and immigration from Asia. 

Some 150 years later, on Dec. 5, 2017, I contacted the Haight Elementary School PTA and encouraged them to initiate the process to rename Haight. Students and parents petitioned to rename the school. The Haight Renaming Committee solicited name suggestions, hosted a community forum and held two student-centered elections. 

Last month, the school community, including students, parents, staff and alumni, overwhelmingly voted to rename their school, “Love Elementary School.” 

There is still resistance to renaming Haight. Most of the arguments resemble those present in Confederate monument debates elsewhere. Besides people’s emotional attachment to the name, some say renaming Haight is contemporary political correctness and would “erase history” or that changing the name would be too costly. A recent report, “The Costs of the Confederacy” in Smithsonian Magazine found these monuments obscure history and memorialize white supremacy. Opposition at the time these monuments were erected was ignored and taxpayer money continues to maintain these monuments. 

The process of renaming Haight has revealed some underlying issues our community must address in order to promote belonging and inclusion in our schools. Haight had a school honoring him for more than a century and it seems few knew of his racist, bigoted and xenophobic views. This process has exposed his white supremacist worldview, long erased from public memory. Incorporating lessons on Reconstruction-era California at the appropriate elementary school levels using the History-Social Science framework; and adopting Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement for our schools will ensure the histories of those targeted by Haight are no longer ignored. This will ensure this history is no longer erased. 

Schools like Haight have very diverse populations. Instead of diversity by default, with a racially just curriculum and professional training, our schools can be intentionally inclusive. In order to do that we must equip adults with the skills and tools to discuss issues of race and power with students. Our children are much more capable of engaging in these conversations than many of us think. 

Love is genuinely one of the greatest values and concepts we can practice in guiding the education of our children. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” By centering our love for our children, love will conquer Haight.

 

Rasheed Shabazz is an author, communicator and educator raised in West Alameda.