Proposal to name Waukegan school after Obamas draws protest

ABC 7 Chicago
Updated 4/3/2021 5:21 PM

As Waukegan's Board of Education considers changing the names of two of its schools, protesters are objecting to a proposal that one of them be named after the nation's first Black president and his wife.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School is named after the nation's third president, who owned slaves. Daniel Webster Middle School is named after a former senator who supported slavery.


Renaming committees were formed for each school, and included people in the community, students and staff. Barack and Michelle Obama is one of the top three choices for Jefferson school's new name.

Members of the area's large Latinx community held a protest outside last week's school board meeting.

"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," said Julie Contreras, a Waukegan activist who leads United Giving Hope, which is organizing the protests.

Contreras, who works with a group that runs shelters for undocumented children at the U.S./Mexico border, said the former president failed to deliver on promises to help the immigrant population and deported more people than any other president.

"He denied us, and he didn't stop the deportations the way he promised," she said.

"I personally don't object to the name, but I have to be aware of the concerns," said school board President Brandon Ewing, who is Black.

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District 60 school board member Edgar Castellanos, who said he came to the United States undocumented as a child, said he opposed the name.

One of the protesters, Mauricio Sanchez, said his father was deported in 2015 under the Obama administration.

"We couldn't even say goodbye to our dad," he said.

Others who spoke endorsed another choice: civil rights icon John Lewis.

A final decision has not yet been made.

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