Black activists criticize effort to rename Ben Carson school

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
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Board member LaMar Lemmons had pushed to rename Carson school, which is named after the Housing and Urban Development secretary and former Republican presidential candidate who graduated from the district.

An effort to rename a school honoring Dr. Ben Carson is "purely political" and ignores the accomplishments and charitable acts of the Detroit native who is the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, according to a Washington, D.C., black activist group.

Project 21, an initiative of the National Center for Public Policy Research, issued a statement on Friday criticizing a decision this week by the Detroit Board of Education to begin the process for renaming several buildings in the district, including the Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine.

"This is another misguided effort by liberals to erase history," Project 21 member Gregory Parker said. "The Detroit school board had no problem with the name of the school before Dr. Carson became active in politics. Now that he does not conform to the ideal liberal plantation image of a black man, and he plays a prominent role in the Trump Administration, he offends their hypersensitive, self-righteous and morally corrupt sensibilities."

Parker said Carson's accomplishments and success as a surgeon and an education advocate do not change because he works for President Donald Trump.

"His accomplishments will forever serve as a testament to courage and strength for all people — black and white," Parker said.

The Detroit school board approved a policy earlier this year that allows it to change a school’s name to honor “individuals who have made a significant contribution to the enhancement of education,” according to the district. 

The board also can select another name under circumstances that include when a building is newly built or redesigned, where the name no longer reflects the current student population or “the community of the geographic area where the school is located requests a name change that more closely aligns with the history of the locality, or information newly discovered about the current name of the school is negative in nature.”

The board's recommendation involved four buildings — the Carson site, Harms Elementary School, Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men and Detroit School of the Arts,  — as well as three new programs, including one at Marygrove, the Latin School or Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women.

Board member LaMar Lemmons had pushed to rename Carson school, which is named after the Housing and Urban Development secretary and former Republican presidential candidate who graduated from the district.

Lemmons cited the neurosurgeon’s name being added when the district was under an emergency financial manager, saying some residents objected to Carson representing the city.

Residents “don’t support the (Trump) administration,” Lemmons said on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the board’s approved a recommendation to hold community meetings and complete surveys for each school site to gauge interest in the switch and select possible new names. The superintendent will report the results and make a final recommendation to the board.

Iris Taylor, board president, said Friday it is premature for Project 21 to criticize the name change policy because nothing has been changed yet and likely will not be for a while.

"We established a process for determining whether a school name should be changed. We have received over the past years multiple letters for different schools suggesting name changes. We have not acted on any of them," Taylor said. "Whether (Carson's) school gets changed will depend on the community, students, faculty."

Project 21 member Diante Johnson, who is also president of the Black Conservative Federation, said Carson's accomplishments are permanent

"To want to remove an honor rooted in Dr. Carson's accomplishments because of political differences or associations puts us at a sad time in history," Johnson said. "Over the years, Dr. Carson has sent a message to youth that — regardless of skin color — the sky is the limit and everyone is free to aspire to be whatever they want to be."

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