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Changing the Mascot

When I was 17,  I was involved in removing a racist mascot from my high school (the same as the Washington Football team).  I assisted in the talks about replacing the moniker, and in speaking out against it before the change was ultimately made. My friend was the first student to go to the school board about the issue.  At that time,  my father was president of the board. I chose to speak out to change the mascot as soon as he told me about the student’s  concerns, but I also knew that even if I hadn’t,  I would have faced backlash by association.

It was 2013 when we retired the old name and started the path towards choosing a new one. Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation donated money to our school to alleviate any community pressure to keep the old name based on the  finances of replacing it on all uniforms and signs. The school board’s vote to change the name was nearly unanimous (with one abstention) after over two months of debate and dispute in the community.

At the time, the opposing sides of the argument clashed brutally at school board meetings, sporting events, and in the halls at school. I became a face and voice for the side of change.  I spoke at school board meetings and was taunted in the halls with cheers of “Go R*****ns” from former friends, and classmates. Though we were all online back then, the internet was hardly the place it is today and I was lucky to have escaped cyber bullying due to my choice to speak out for change.  Instead, I started locking my car, never left my bag out of my locker, and worried about my car getting keyed.   I was labeled an “outsider” at a school I had attended for twelve years.  And I have to be honest, while I never regretted my decision to be on the right side of history, it rocked me.  It made me anxious, it made me hate school and my hometown.  It pushed me into trying to gradate early and when I couldn’t do that taking half days and opting for college classes.  It is one of the many reasons I chose San Francisco for college.  I knew I was in the right but it felt far from good at the time,  even when the change was made.

The fall of my senior year the name was changed, and we had a new one, but I still received jeers at my swim meets.  Then one thing led to another and my friend Emily,  who had led the movement the previous year, and I were invited to Washington DC to speak on a panel to press about our school’s name change and about the need to change in DC football team.  In that meeting room in 2013, my dad said we would see this change in the next ten years, and he was right.  Now, at 24, I know I was in the right and I feel the power I had and pride in the positive change I helped make. Then, at 17, I was terrified to be in that room, I was terrified to do that TV interview. The weekend and the fresh round of backlash threatened my mental health as I did interview after interview through the fear of what lay back at school when I got home.

At the time I knew I was in the right but it did not feel that way, and maybe that is how you know sometimes, but I don’t wish that on any young activist trying to make change today.

The other day my mom told me that the daughter of her colleague was spearheading a movement to change the headdress wearing mascots at her school in Morgantown, WV (where my family now lives). I told her to send me the petition and I would share it among those who have been fighting this fight for nearly a decade now. I signed and planned to share, but only moments after I signed I received messages from what I can only assume are high school bullies calling me a bitch, and a moron, and ending with anti-Black rhetoric before she blocked me.

I’m 24, I’ve grown thick skin to this type of speech and bullying, but I had not when I was 17 and I can only imagine how the young girl who was brave enough to start this movement in her town is feeling, and how these bullies are treating her.

I want to boost her petition and her message for two reasons:

1. The first is obvious, there needs to be a change, the mascot is racist, the headdress needs to go at the very least. With all the pressure for positive change for Black Lives, POC, and Native Peoples its far past time. This needs to happen, and it is happening right now.

1. The second is less so. Right now,  there is another petition against our young activist friend in Morgantown trying to keep the name. This petition has at least as many signatures as hers, and those running it are bullying her relentlessly online. The only reason I found out about this is because after hearing my story from my mother her coworker sought her out to ask how it affected me. I want to do everything in my power to keep her from feeling the way I did. I want her to have more messages of support from across the country than she has hate mail. I want her to succeed so she can look back in seven years and feel her power and her pride.

So I call on you.

I call on CCS alum to boost this, if you were on the wrong side then now is your chance to change. If you were on the right side then you know why we need to keep doing and supporting this work.

I call on CCA alum and the activist souls I have always known you to be to stand in solidarity like I know you can.

I call on my fellow yoga teachers who try and live our lives with this sort of care, compassion, and growth every day.

Use your platforms, big and small, to boost this. Lets make the change. Lets make sure this brave young woman knows that the world is in her corner.



https://www.change.org/p/paul-mihalko-change-the-morgantown-high-school-mascot?redirect=false

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