|Rep. Gerry Connolly speaks at the rededication ceremony at Justice High School.|
The ceremony recognized the official renaming of the school formerly known as JEB Stuart High School.
|The ribbon is cut.|
When the school board approved the name Justice in October 27, their aim was to honor the three individuals – Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, civil rights activist Barbara Rose Johns, and World War II hero and educator Louis G. Mendez Jr. – who got the most votes from the community as an alternative to Stuart.
Those three honorees were recognized at the rededication, which featured presentations by students, remarks by public officials and Fairfax County school leaders, songs by the Justice choir. Several descendants of Mendez and Johns were there, too.
School board member Sandy Evans, who led the school board’s efforts to change the name, told the audience that students approached her a couple of years ago saying they wanted the name of their school to represent diversity and equity, not a Confederate general.
“This is one of the most diverse and inclusive schools in the county,” Evans said, noting the school’s motto is “we are one.” The new name will “glow with our hopes and dreams for the future.”
“This was a painful decision for a lot of people in our community,” Rep. Gerry Connolly acknowledged. “It was their high school. They didn’t associate it with anything negative.”
But that’s not the case if you were a person of color in the 1950s, Connolly said. At that time, black students who lived here were bused to a high school in Manassas.
|The Justice chorus.|
And even after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that public schools had to be integrated, local leaders “named buildings for Confederate heroes as a stick in the eye, to remind you who was in charge,” he said. “The name of this school was part of an ignoble era in our history. That’s the wrong we are righting today.”
When our president talks about a white supremacist rally and says there were good people on both sides, “renaming this high school is more important than ever,” Connolly said. “That kind of bigotry and hatred is not welcome here.”
In honor of the rededication ceremony, Connolly presented an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol to Justice Principal Maria Eck.
“We believe in the worth and dignity of every single person,” said Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. The rededication of Justice High School reaffirms the words in the Pledge of Allegiance about “liberty and justice for all.”
A descendant of slaves, Fairfax is the second-highest elected official in the state, an accomplishment that wouldn’t have been possible without the struggle for civil rights.
Johns was a key player in that struggle. Justice students Elijah Jeffries, Irene Hossain, and Noah Jeffries told the audience how she was unhappy about having to attend an inferior school because of her race – and decided to do something about it. Johns led a student strike and a march to the office of the school superintendent.
That led to the NAACP filing a lawsuit charging the Prince Edward County, Va., school system with racial discrimination, which was combined with similar cases into the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown decision. Because of John’s “courage as a teenager to fight for justice and equality,” the students said, “she is a true American hero.”
Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court, served on the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C., then in 1967, became the first African American justice on the Supreme Court, said students Julie Clark, Alicia Gendell, and Kevin Ma.
The students called Marshall a “civil rights hero who opened the doors for millions” and transformed our nation, demanding we truly live up to our ideals of equality and justice.” Marshall was also the first African American resident of Lake Barcroft; his wife still lives there.
Michael Jimenez Sandoval, Jasmin Martinez, and Jennifer Giron spoke told how their ancestor, Col. Mendez, helped save the world from Nazi tyranny in World War II. The paratrooper regiment he commanded was one of the first forces to land on Normandy Beach. He liberated several towns in France, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and earned a Distinguished Service Cross.
|Justice High School has all new signs and logos.|
He was an intellectual who appreciated the value of education, they said. He later served as a military attaché to Spain and directed the Right to Read program in the Virginia Department of Education.
His life “illustrates the impact all of us can have if we are willing to give to a cause larger than ourselves,” they said. Mendez also lived in Lake Barcroft.
“Our diversity is our strength,” said Justice High School’s new principal, Maria Eck, who noted that among Justice’s 2,200 students are youths who come from more than 20 countries.
“All of you are welcome, regardless of where you’re from or how you arrived,” Eck said.
And while Justice offers a world-class curriculum with outstanding programs like the International Baccalaureate diploma, she said, “our students are more than a test score.” She urged everyone in the Justice community to “share the good things going on here every day.”
The Wolves have already proven themselves on the athletic field. The football team won its first two games, and the girls field hockey team won the first trophy for Justice High School.