John Lewis: What’s in a name?

A graduating senior reflects on the experience of attending high school as the name changed to honor Representative John R. Lewis.


Briana Mejia-Betancourt

Lewis graduate and FCPS art teacher Ramandip Singh detailed John Lewis’ accomplishments in the main lobby’s mural.

Alex Norman, Guest Writer

Despite attending one school building, my high school has gone by two different names during my years here. During my freshman and sophomore years, I went to a school called Robert E. Lee High School. Now, it is called John R. Lewis High School.

Before Lewis’ name change, our school was consistently known for one thing, as senior Anna Lewis explains. “Extremely diverse,” Lewis said. 

Our past name, Robert E. Lee, was not representative of the student body attending the school; no one could disagree. Robert E. Lee was general and leader of the Confederal Army during the Civil War, fighting to preserve the institution of slavery. Lee was not the symbol that students could be proud of or feel represented by, so the name was challenged and our school went through a long renaming process through the FCPS School Board in the spring of 2020.

After some debate and lots of opinions from students, staff, and others a decision was made and our school was renamed after Representative John R. Lewis. With a new name came lots of positive changes like a new Leadership Academy coming to our school, a mural, rededication ceremony, and a renewed sense of pride

However, did students and staff truly understand the importance of this name change?

I remember in the beginning of the year, in my English 12 class our teacher asked, “Who knows who John R Lewis is?” Some kids raised their hands, but once she asked what he did or who everyone’s hands were shot down. So our school had been renamed after someone we knew nothing about? 

My English teacher assured us that we would soon find out who the man our school was named after was. We began reading a graphic novel called Run, which was about John R. Lewis and what he did during the Civil Rights movement. 

Senior Anthony Osei learned more about the school’s namesake through the book. “After reading Run, I understand why our school would be named after him,” Osei said. 

Someone like John Lewis who fought for many of our students to be able to have the opportunities they have today, including me and the students I interviewed, should be honored. Naming the school after Lewis not only is a good way to represent our diverse student body and give them a symbol to be proud of, but it is also a good way to honor John R. Lewis. 

Almost three years before our school changed its name, another high school in FCPS, Justice, which had previously been named after Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, had also had their name changed. 

When I went suit shopping for prom, I actually ran into a woman whose son currently attends Justice. She had asked me where I went to school, and I said, “John R. Lewis.” 

She was confused and asked where that was. I explained that it had been renamed, and we connected over our situations. We talked about how cool it was that we would graduate with a name that felt representative of us. 

The highlight of my high school years was the name change because it allowed so much positive change to occur at my school. This change continues to flourish and makes our school a better place. I think students now feel proud and represented when they say their school’s name. I can personally say that I am excited to graduate from John R Lewis High School.