After an abrupt pivot away from an evergreen tree as a new mascot, Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School will now be known as the Guardians. Guardians will replace the school's current Trojan mascot.
The revised mascot was approved unanimously Tuesday, April 27, by the Portland Public Schools Board. Nearly a month earlier, the board paused its consideration of the Evergreens as the Southwest Portland high school's new mascot after a board member noted concern from community members of using a tree at a high school that had recently been renamed to honor a historic Black journalist and NAACP co-founder. The tree could conjure up reminders of lynching, Board Director Michelle DePass noted.
The Wells-Barnett High School renaming and mascot committee returned the following month with a recommendation to adopt the Guardians as the new mascot, noting it was also on the list of mascot finalists and was the next most popular choice among students and community members.
Martin Osborne has helped lead the school's rebranding efforts. Osborne initially pushed back on the idea that the tree mascot could be problematic, but said the committee had the "uncomfortable" but necessary conversations to dissect the mascot issue further after hearing the board's feedback.
"It's not enough to have good intentions," Osborne said. "We have to measure our impact and our choices and decisions and even if our initial decision might be readily transparent, accessible and obvious to the community, if there were issues that this brought up … we needed to take that on."
Osborne said the process of finding the right mascot provided an important lesson and a "great example of how we must continue to unpack the deep legacy of our country's history."
Noreena McCleave, an alumna of the high school, said the proposed mascot aligned with the life and legacy of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the school's new namesake.
"This was a woman who devoted her life to promoting and protecting justice, truth and human dignity," McCleave said. "She gave voice to those who were silenced. She defended those who were mistreated and used the power of writing and public speaking to shed light on the ugly truth of racism. At the end of the day, she was a true guardian of democracy and social justice."
Since renaming the school from Woodrow Wilson High to Ida B. Wells-Barnett High in January, the westside school has leaned into its new identity. Principal Filip Hristic said the school has commissioned an artist to paint a 24-foot mural of Wells-Barnett in the school's main hallway. Additionally, all ninth-grade students will now read "Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells" as a core text.
Hristic noted the school consulted with Wells-Barnett's family about the mascot issue, and her descendants had no issue with the Evergreens, but regardless, the committee felt it was best to move in another direction.
PPS Board Director Andrew Scott, whose zone includes Wells-Barnett High, noted the board received angry feedback from people throughout the country after pausing consideration of the tree mascot.
"The folks we engage with in our community are the voices that matter," Scott said.
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