Students returning to J.J. Finley Elementary School will be met with new friends and new teachers, but also with a new school name.
The years-long fight to rename J.J. Finley Elementary School made progress June 16 after a vote by the Alachua County Public School Board. The school’s namesake, J.J. Finley, was a Confederate general and an architect of the culture of lynching in Northern Florida—a culture that was responsible for the death of 43 Black residents of Alachua County.
Though the Gator Chapter of the NAACP encouraged renaming the school after Josiah T. Walls, the new name will not be chosen until Aug. 4 at the latest. Before then, a renaming committee will review prospective names submitted by the community, according to ACPS Spokesperson Jackie Johnson.
The committee has yet to be selected, but people can begin emailing name suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org until July 17. The email should include the name and a biography of the individual, she said.
The school board also plans to build a website that will include the suggested names and their biographies, Johnson said. A calendar will be available on the site to document the progress of the change.
The school board hopes for the renaming committee to select a new name by Aug. 4, Johnson said.
The renaming committee will be composed of representatives chosen by each school board member, Johnson added. The remaining members will be parents selected by the J.J. Finley Parent-Teacher Association, as well as a teacher and an “education support professional.” Kelly Brill Jones, the school’s principal, will also be on the committee but will not be able to vote.
School Board Member Tina Certain nominated nine individuals and one organization, the Gator chapter of the NAACP, for the renaming committee. Four of the nominees are activists, and the other five are historians, Certain said.
To Certain, two activists deserve recognition: Faye Williams and Kali Blount. The pair have fought for a full scope of Black history to be taught in Alachua County.
“Change is slow,” she said. “Mrs. Faye started this movement in 2017 and wasn’t listened to, and the Gator NAACP grew the community. In this time in which we are living, we have to address the harshness and bones of systemic racism.”
Blount was also a lone voice advocating for change, Certain said. He has attended school board meetings for more than 20 years repeating his request—for African American history to be taught in ACPS.
“Black history has not been infused into the curriculum and taught fully, she said.” “It shouldn’t just be a focus because current events have shed a spotlight on systemic racism and then forgotten. All of Black history should be taught and not ignored until February each year.”
Despite the progress made, Gator NAACP vice president Rachel Khoury said the movement is far from over.
Next, J.J. Finley’s name must be removed from all signs and social media, she said. Students must be taught about the injustices committed by Finely, and Alachua County Public Schools must apologize for failing to teach his history previously.
Khoury believes the completion of these steps will aid Alachua County Commission’s movement for truth and reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation committee was founded in January after the history of lynching in the county resurfaced—a history that Khory said J.J. Finley played an integral part in.
“Truth can be achieved by educating and exposing the past and present injustices that affect our community, and recognizing those like Josiah T. Walls is part of this process,” she said.