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Community Advocacy Organization

'My 2 Cents' with Warren Williams- The Sexton HS 'rebrand' proposal

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

So, Sexton is “rebranding.” The nickname BIG REDS is being sacrificed on the altar of ‘political correctness!’ As one who grew up in the shadow of Sexton, who could hear the band playing from the football stadium on a fall Friday night from my front yard, this is really personal.

Based on the comments of hundreds of my fellow Sexton grads on Facebook, this announced ‘rebranding’ is being taken personally by a lot of folks. And by more than a 9-to-1 margin, the proud Big Reds out there are seriously upset with this. Is it life-changing upset? No. But people are displeased. And there may be consequences.

On the Facebook pages, SEXTON CLASSMATES and JW SEXTON HIGH SCHOOL ALUMNI, thousands of comments have been made about this ‘rebranding.’ From Big Reds from the 1940s through the 2010s – they are overwhelmingly against this move.

Many, like myself, take serious issue with the judgment that the nickname BIG REDS, and the Indian Chief mascot, are racist.

The Sexton ‘Chief’ appears to be a composite of legendary Native American leaders like Sitting Bull of the Lakota’s and Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce tribe. It is not a grotesque caricature. Overwhelmingly, Indian nicknames and mascots -- like Sexton’s -- were chosen to honor Native Americans. To identify with their strength of body and character. With their reliance, poise, and fierce fighting spirit.

The veritable identity of schools wasn’t tied to Native Americans out of racist intent. To demean. To denigrate. Who labels themselves something they despite? That’s a ridiculous notion! We are damn proud to be Big Reds!

Officials with the Lansing School District, in a July 2, 2022, news release, said, “It’s time for a change,” and “This is a very exciting opportunity to…come together to create something…we will all be proud of in the future.”

Perhaps tellingly, the release has no statement from a Native American tribe or individual about the need for this ‘rebranding’ at Sexton.

I have heard from two self-described Native Americans with ties to Sexton who loved the Big Reds nickname and the use of the Indian Chief mascot. Here’s what, one, Marie Mireles said: “I am a Sexton Big Red alum – half native, Lipan Apache Tribe. It honors our native ancestors. Keep it. Proud to be a Big Red. We are tired of being erased.”

Is there any minority group in America today more invisible than Native Americans?

If you believe, as I do, that two of the keys to ending racism are education and exposure, then removing Native American nicknames and mascots is the wrong way to go.

I love what an Illinois state representative, Maurice West, came up with in his proposed Illinois House Bill 4783: “Schools using (Indian mascots) would need to receive written consent every 5 years from a Native American tribe within 500 miles. Also, schools would need to conduct programs on Native American culture and offer a course on Native American contributions.”

Here in Lansing, for instance, would that not have been a better approach – if the goal is more understanding and less racism – than to simply eliminate the Big Red nickname and mascot?

Sexton can be ‘rebranded’ by retaining the Big Reds nickname but with a new mascot. There are talented artists out there willing to work to come up with a new symbol. I have their contact information.

But, by the way, rather than ‘rebranding’ would it not be better for Sexton and Lansing Schools in general to ‘refocus’ on better educating young people? On standardized tests for math and reading, Lansing public school students are "2.2 grades behind" the average U-S school district!" Fewer than 8% of Sexton students are at or above minimum proficiency in Math, and just 16% for Reading on national standardized tests. And Sexton was the best among the three Lansing high schools.

We can retain that proud Big Reds nickname that has been a unifier for several generations of Sexton students -- and create a symbol that could not be construed as culturally insensitive.

Visual courtesy of Warren Williams

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