Plan to Rename School Is Protested


Hundreds of Crenshaw High School students walked out of class Wednesday morning to protest a proposed name change that they say would rob the school of its history and deal a blow to its pride.

It took two hours, several police units and an appearance by Rep. Maxine Waters to corral students in nearby Leimert Park and urge them to go back to school.

Students were incensed when they found out last week that administrators had proposed changing the name of Crenshaw to Julian C. Dixon Senior High School to honor the late congressman, who died of a heart attack in December. Dixon attended Susan Miller Dorsey High School, Crenshaw’s archrival.


When the 9 a.m. bell rang, about 700 students exited the front gates, carrying signs and yelling in protest.

“We’re just letting them know that we don’t want the name changed,” said Starr Genyard, 17, a senior who helped rally student support.

Administrators have the final say in what it is named, but they must hold meetings to gauge community reaction.

Genyard and others said the student protest was about more than the school’s rivalry with Dorsey. Changing the name of the 32-year-old school would disregard a legacy that includes the school’s Elite Choir and the internationally recognized basketball team.

A story in Friday’s school paper quoted Principal Travis Kiel saying the change was being considered “to change the image of Crenshaw and provide a better environment for the students.” Students say administrators should instead focus on the shortage of qualified teachers, poor facilities and lack of books.

Many said they didn’t even know who Dixon was. Described by his peers as low-profile, Dixon served the community for over 20 years as a civil rights activist and advocate for his community.


“They say he did a lot for the Crenshaw community,” said Genyard, “Why don’t we know who he is?”

Regardless of what is proposed, the students said, they don’t want the name of their school changed.

Brandyn Pierce, a senior who was not present at the protest, had contacted a number of students, alumni and community members, including civil rights activist Najee Ali, for assistance. They had been planning the walkout for a week.

“Right now they are emotional and there is some misinformation,” said Dr. William Elkins, director of schools in Crenshaw’s subdistrict, standing outside as helicopters buzzing overhead tracked the movement of students down Crenshaw Boulevard.

Elkins had announced the name change idea in a faculty meeting last Tuesday. Though no formal proposal has been submitted, students thought the change was a done deal, he said.

Genethia Hayes, president of the school board and a graduate of Dorsey High School, said the renaming idea was hers. In fact, she sent a letter to several schools--including Dorsey high school and Sixth Avenue Elementary School, both of which Dixon attended--with the idea that one might be renamed to honor the congressman. She said that if community meetings suggest there is substantial opposition, the idea will be dropped.


Kiel’s initial attempts to establish a committee of school and community members to explore the idea failed, he said. “Everyone I talked to wanted no part of it,” Kiel said. But community politicians said a meeting still should be held to discuss the issue.

As the cheering students assembled in Leimert Park, Waters was summoned to help regain control. She asked the students to return to school and research the history of Crenshaw and Julian Dixon so they can make an informed decision.

“I think the most important thing right now . . . is to give them support and listen to them,” Waters told administrators as some students filed back into the school about 11:30 a.m. Many apparently did not return to class.

“A lot of people are just doing it to get out of class,” said Timmie Roach, 17.

Students began to file back to class when Genyard told them they would have a chance to speak later during a lunchtime rally. She said the protest ultimately had been a success. “I feel as a result of the walkout, everybody in Congress knows that we are serious.”