Latino Activists Protest Renaming Illinois School after Barack and Michelle Obama

The Obamas greet guests at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, October 31, 2017 (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

Latino activists are pushing to keep former president Barack Obama’s name off a school building in Illinois over his broken promises on immigration as the Waukegan Board of Education looks to rename two of its schools, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Daniel Webster Middle School.

The board formed renaming committees for the schools named after Jefferson, who owned slaves, and Webster, who supported slavery. The committees, comprised of community, students, and staff, proposed that Barack Obama and the former first lady, Michelle Obama, be added to a final list of new names being considered for Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

District 60 school-board member Edgar Castellanos, who came to the U.S. undocumented as a child, said he would “not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community,” according to ABC 7 Chicago.

Activist Julie Contreras, who works with a group that operates shelters for undocumented children at the southern border, is organizing protests against naming the school for the former president and first lady, saying President Obama did not follow through on his vows to help the immigrant community.

“From the time Barack Obama became president until 2017 when he left, he today is still the highest-ranking president with deportations in our nation,” Contreras said, according to ABC 7. “We feel that Barack Obama did disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn’t stop the deportations, the way he promised.”

“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,” Contreras said.

Latino community members protested outside the meeting’s doors on Tuesday.

School-board president Brandon Ewing said that while he doesn’t personally object to the Obamas’ name being used he has “to be aware of the concerns.”

According to the report, while a final decision on the name has not been made, others at the meeting supported another finalist in the running for renaming the school, the late congressman and civil-rights icon John Lewis.

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