WASHINGTON - The fate of Ballou High School in Southeast D.C. was under debate Thursday night. The Marion Barry Memorial Commission has recommended changing the school's name to honor the former mayor. But not everyone is on board with this.
There are strong feelings on both sides of this dispute. A large part of Barry's legacy was his support for the city's youth. A coalition of Ballou alumni and students who gathered at the high school Thursday wants to see him memorialized throughout city, but they think losing the name Ballou would do more harm than good.
But others felt very differently. One woman whose children graduated from the school showed up to try and express her opinion.
"This school should be named after Marion Barry,” said Isabelle Jenkins. “Not only that, the White House should be named after him. I know he has helped secure funds over here to build this structure. I don’t care what he did, but he was for the people."
The former mayor's support for funding the major renovations that Ballou recently underwent is part of the reason the Barry Memorial Commission decided to include renaming the school in their recommendations.
Also on the list is renaming a student center at the University of the District of Columbia, creating a statue at the Wilson Building and naming a road after Barry – possibly Good Hope Road.
Mayor Muriel Bowser still needs to sign off on the recommendations and then they will be sent to the city council for approval.
The group that gathered at the school opposing the name change has collected more than 3,500 signatures in paper and online petitions.
They said changing the name would hurt the school's legacy – from its renowned marching band, the number of successful alumni and its sports programs.
There is also the issue of money.
“It's really fiscally irresponsible to go back into a new construction, build it and rip apart all of the logos, paintings and artwork that was commissioned from the community,” said Danitra Dorsey-Daniels, a Ballou graduate. “Because it was really a true community effort when it came to the design of this school. You really would be going in and ripping apart a lot of things and putting the kids back through construction.”
"We have students here that are student-athletes that can’t even have colleges come see them play their home games because we don’t have a football field and we don’t have a track – because the contract fell through,” said Karen Lucas, another Ballou alumna. “So is this really about the kids? I don’t think so. I think somebody’s priorities are out of order."
Marion Barry's son, Christopher, who is on the memorial commission, recently took to social media making racist claims about Frank Ballou, the person the school is named after. Ballou was the superintendent for D.C. Public Schools from 1920 through 1943.
The alumni are questioning Christopher Barry’s motives because they say there is no race issue in this debate and it is all about what the school has become.