Rann Miller: Camden Now Has an Eastside High School — Now What?

By Rann Miller | Guest Blogger AC JosepH Media

The Camden City School District (CCSD) has changed the name of Woodrow Wilson High School to Eastside High School. The name change will be in effect the 2022-2023 school year. I for one believe that it was good for CCSD to change the name of the school. Regarding the renaming of the school… that’s another thing altogether.

Others haven’t held back their approval or disapproval of the name change.

Many people have joked about the name, referring to the Eastside High of Newark and Lean on Me fame. Others have said the name “Eastside High” is better than renaming/rebranding the East Camden school with “Camden High” in the name. Some have even called to question the process of how the school was renamed altogether. Nevertheless, the decision is made and now the Camden community, particularly the community of students, alumni and East Camden residents will live with this decision, for better or for worse.

The question now becomes, what or how should folks navigate this renaming, especially those who aren’t wild about this new name?

I’ve shared my thoughts previously; that Woodrow Wilson was not worthy of having a school, or any edifice, named after him because he was an unabashed racist. Simply put, Woodrow Wilson was no friend to Black people—particularly when challenged by us. With history serving as evidence, it is safe to assume that Wilson’s posture towards the residence of Camden today wouldn’t be much different were he here. Nevertheless, the students and alumni of Woodrow Wilson High School is what makes past and present attendees a community.

In other words, it wasn’t the spirit of Woodrow Wilson to permeated the building but rather the spirit of Camden city residents; Black and Latinx students over the years who have contributed to a culture that is representative of the heart, persistence, and resoluteness of Camden City.

The school affectionately called ‘Wilson’ is so because of Camden’s people and thankfully the emotional attachment to the school has nothing to do with Woodrow Wilson himself. Over the years, the many alumni did their own cultural meaning-making within the school’s campus.

Despite the social structure posture towards the school, and the district, ‘Wilson’ took on a governance connotation; the school became known as a vital member of the East Camden community—from Panzerottis’ to parades on Federal street to celebrate the championship football team.

It’s the memories, the mentors, and the magic of education that happened within those walls. Folks may say what they want about education in Camden (and they do), but teachers have emerged from the halls of that school, as well as athletes, lawyers, doctors and university chancellors have emerged from that building.

The very individuals who raised me as the man I am today, my parents, emerged from that building.

This may sound more like a rationale for the school not needing a name change at all. However, this is not that. To be clear, the name needed to be changed. What I am saying is that with this new name, the people who inhabit that building have a grand opportunity; the opportunity to give that name it’s new spirit, a spirit only Camden’s people can provide it with.

I know that Eastside High School is not the name that most people would have wanted for this school building. Personally speaking, the renaming of the school deserved a member of the Camden community representative of the people, having made an impact in the city.  It certainly would have made sense to rename the school after a member of the  Latinx community, as former board member Jose Delgado intimated—considering the racial demographics of the school as well as East Camden in general.   

Folks like community activist Rosa Ramirez and retired Camden City Police chief Edwin Figueroa immediately come to mind.

Although not from Camden, Arturo Schomburg would have made a great choice as one to rename the school after; this Afro Latinx gentleman who was a historian of black history would have made a wonderful choice in my estimation, representing the Black and Latinx community of residents, students and alumni. But he didn’t make it.

I’m not sure of how the decision was made.

I am unaware of who was on the renaming committee or how the committee was chosen. I can imagine that most are unaware of all the factors that went into the decision to rename the school Eastside High. Nevertheless, this is a decision and it will be up to the people who walk those halls, who cheer at sporting events and graduations, and who represent the school when venturing out to determine what Eastside High School will be.

To be frank, I’ve never heard anyone in East Camden ever refer to the community as ‘eastside’ in my life. East Camden is affectionately referred to as ‘east’ and not ‘eastside.’ Why, because there’s no west Camden, that’s why. In order for there to be an eastside, there must be a westside and Camden is without that. There’s no northside or southside either, but I digress. 

Then again, maybe a new tradition will be born and Eastside will stick.

What’s important is answering the question what do folks do now with what they have., I am a firm believer in the spirit of Camden‘s people and no matter the name of the school, I know that the young people in this city will continue to breathe life and create the memories that will make Eastside High School something that is theirs; a place the community of Camden will  be proud of.

Bio: Rann Miller directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally funded after-school program located in southern New Jersey. He spent years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey. He is the creator, writer, and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @UrbanEdDJ

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