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Karen Keys-Gamarra: We’ve Renamed the High School; Now, Let’s Establish a John R. Lewis Academy Focusing on Government, Public Policy, Leadership and Human Rights


by Fairfax County School Board member Karen Keys-Gamarra

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John Lewis lived by this mantra. And for this I am grateful.

I was too young to participate in the civil rights movement.  But John Lewis was there. This courageous giant wasn’t afraid to face off with the evils of racism when Jim Crow and violence were all too common.  Lewis was there when I could not stand up to claim a better future for myself, for my sons or for all our sons and daughters yet to be born.  He was beaten as he exited the Edmund Pettus Bridge for all of those who dared to believe that the constitution of the United States should represent the inhabitants of this nation—that true democracy would become a reality for all who dared to hope.

The way John Lewis lived his life is reason enough to honor him.  Addressing the historical amnesia of this nation is another.  Despite all his best efforts and those whose voices have risen for the good of this nation, we still have confederate general names on our schools in one of the most affluent and politically vocal counties in Virginia.  I’m the Fairfax County-wide School Board member who was proud to second the motion to remove Robert E. Lee’s name from one of our most diverse high schools and rename it to become the John R. Lewis High School.

As much as I am grateful for the renaming of this school, I also believe that our words must become action.  We must do more. That’s why I’m proposing that this time, we do more than just a name change. I hope that this name change will represent a sea change– that this action will represent a true commitment to an anti-racist school system that vows to achieve the highest levels of academic achievement while equipping our students for a lifetime commitment to public service.  We must not only put John Lewis’ name on the walls of the schools, but we can also adopt the principles of his life by establishing a John R. Lewis Academy that offers a comprehensive curriculum focusing on government, public policy, leadership and human rights. At this academy, we can make sure that our civics and history classes encourage academic achievement and understanding that breeds positive involvement in one’s community.  I propose this Academy because it is time to do more than pay lip service to change.  We must reform public education because we recognize that too many times, we have been part of the problem-that disparities in discipline, hiring, and access to opportunity are inappropriate.  Our actions must say that we are ready to take bold steps to correct the wrongs of our past.  Public education must not shrink from this moment.

John Lewis dedicated his life to improving the lives of others.  He is an icon.  He is an example.  In the tradition of the life of John Lewis, I hope that my colleagues and I will work with our Superintendent to develop a plan that allows our students at Lewis High School to experience the learning process that reflects the dedication of a life well lived.  I can think of no greater tribute than to allow our students to explore excellence in leadership and to achieve the highest levels of academic achievement at the newly formed John R. Lewis Academy.

In his last words, John Lewis implored us to fight for the soul of our nation.  He wrote, “When Historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war.  So, I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”  That sounds like a prayer from a heart of a man who lived for others.  I say, “Amen.”

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