Student petition urges naming new elementary school for former slave and war hero

Student petition urges naming new elementary school for former slave and war hero

A group of Williamson County teens is spearheading a campaign to ensure the county remembers the area’s only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.

Meredith McMillian, a Brentwood High School junior and president of the school’s Diversity Leadership Project, is leading the effort to name a new elementary school currently under construction on Split Log Road in Brentwood after Sgt. George Jordan.

Jordan was born into slavery in Williamson County during the 1840s, later enlisting in the United States Army. He was driven and hard-working, even teaching himself to read and write while serving as a Buffalo Soldier on the Western frontier. He worked his way through the ranks to become First Sergeant, and earned Williamson County’s only Congressional Medal of Honor for the valor he demonstrated in two battles against Apache Warriors during the Indian Wars.

Currently no school in the Williamson County Schools system is named after an African-American, which McMillian and other students in Diversity Leadership Project would like to change. The students are seeking to get 2,000 student signatures and 500 parent signatures in favor of naming the new school, Jordan Elementary School.

“We need to acknowledge and honor diversity in Williamson County, and celebrate the contributions African-Americans make to our community in a way that really matters,” McMillian said. “Naming the school after a former slave who became a land owner, fought for the right to vote, and even won the Congressional Medal of Honor is a great way to show empathy and do the right thing.”

A naming committee for the new Brentwood school recently announced that Jordan Elementary School is one of the four finalists for the new school’s name. The other finalists are Eastwood, Pleasant Hill and Split Log. 

McMillian and many of the other students who signed the petition for the name are a part of the Diversity Leadership Project, an organization that teaches students to advocate for diversity in their community while enhancing their college admission and scholarship opportunities. The project was founded by history professor and college planning consultant Randall Bedwell and curriculum developer Audrey Bouvier.

“We’re trying to meet the students where they are, in doing important things and working on issues that are important to kids,” Bedwell said.

The Diversity Leadership Project was born out of a desire to work, Bedwell said, “on a way to get students involved creating some kind of collaborative effort that allowed them to understand diversity in our community.”

There are Diversity Leadership Project clubs at Franklin High School and Centennial High School as well as Brentwood High School.

McMillan organized the one at Brentwood High School, which just had its first meeting last week.

At that meeting McMillan said the club would provide a means for students to engage with their community in new ways. She said it is easy sometimes for high schoolers to get “all caught up in school and extracurriculars and athletics and clubs and trying to all of these things on our resumes for college.”

She sees the Diversity Leadership Project as something more than just an obligation.

We want to “encourage people to stand up and make a difference in their schools without feeling the pressure of, ‘You have to do it,'” McMillan said. “It’s more like we want to do it to make a difference.”

As far as the school naming is concerned, McMillan said the Diversity Leadership Project has been posting information on social media about it and is optimistic more and more people will sign their petition before the Williamson County Board of Education is expected to make a final decision on the name at its Sept. 21 meeting.

“Word travels quickly around here,” McMillan said.

To watch a video where McMillan talks about the school naming petition or to see the petition yourself, click here.

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