JACKSON, Mich. — The former Lincoln Elementary School on Jackson's south side has sat empty for eight years. Classes haven't been taught there since the early 1990s.
But, that's about to change.
The Jackson school board is reopening the school and will rename it after the civil rights icon John Lewis.
"You look at the sign of the times we're in," said Jackson public schools Trustee Erin White, who played a part ing the change. "There’s just no greater times to the civil rights hero and legend. And to be able to do that here in Jackson County we overwhelming believe it was a win for the district.”
Libby Brown who taught in the Jackson public schools for 34 years was instrumental in finding a way to honor the civil rights icon in the Jackson community.
“I feel that our students will have someone that is relevant to the times and be able to look up to him as a role model," said Brown. "And really our brown and black students really don’t have a role model to look up to as far as the school is concerned so this would be excellent.”
John Lewis was a civil rights activist, one of the "Big Six" who organized the 1963 march on Washington and led marches in Selma, Alabama. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia's Fifth District in 1986 and served there until his death in July.
The soon-to-be John R. Lewis School would not have been possible if not for the nearly $86 million bond that was passed by voters in 2018.
“That was really historic," said White, "to my understanding throughout Michigan one of the largest bonds for a school district this size that was passed.”
Once it reopens, the south Jackson school could be home to as many as 375 students.
“Anytime you can recognize just an absolute giant such as John R. Lewis and we can implement that legacy in Jackson that’s something that is going that future generations are going to be able to hold on to and be proud of," said White.
Lewis wrote an essay that was published on the day of his funeral calling for peace, love, and non-violence. Hearing it cemented in Brown's mind that they had made the right choice.
“I think no truer words have ever been spoken and that’s what it’s all about," said Brown. "And we want our society to grow into a more loving society and for him as a role-model, for our students, they’ll learn that.”
John R. Lewis School is slated to open in the fall for young fives through fifth grade, according to Jackson public schools.