Before attending high school I had never even heard of Fannie Lou Hamer. Then I started to attend Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School and learned she was an activist from Mississippi who worked to give African Americans to vote. Most of the time when I heard about activists it was about Martin Luther King Jr or Malcolm X. Fannie Lou was beaten by racist police officers but she didn’t let that stop her from continuing to organize people to vote. When I heard about that incident, that was the moment I realized Fannie Lou was awesome.
Last school year was Fannie Lou’s 100th birthday and our school celebrated in many ways. My teacher Christine Caldero held a competition to see who could write a persuasive essay on changing the street name in front of our building to Fannie Lou Hamer Street. I started to research as many things about Fannie Lou as possible, submitted my paper, and won the competition.
To my surprise, Christine submitted my paper to the local community board. The community board took our request seriously and invited the school to present the request for the street name change at the next community board meeting. I was given the honor of speaking in front of the community board and was so nervous I felt like a baby bird about to take its first flight. I thought that I would mess up, but it was great. I received great feedback from community board members and on the first vote, they voted yes! I was also joined by my friend Cinia Simpson, representatives from our student government, my teachers Paula Dallacqua and Christine Caldero, and Principal Jeff Palladino.
After the meeting, months went by and I didn’t hear anything about the street naming. I was worried that I was going to graduate and the street was still going to be the same. I thought that the hard work that we did was for nothing. Then in January 2019 we went to Atlantic City for a march honoring Fannie Lou and marched to the same convention center where she famously spoke out about African American rights on live television. The march was amazing and gave me the inspiration I needed to not give up on the street naming.
Finally, on February 15, 2019, my principal Jeff Palladino informed me the street naming would actually happen on February 25 in partnership with our local elected officials, Councilmember Rafael Salamanca and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo. I would also have the opportunity to speak at the ceremony. I was so happy that I cried. Fannie Lou Hamer put in so much work to fight for civil rights, which are the rights for African Americans to be seen as human beings. I knew we worked hard for this moment to happen and that the street naming was long overdue. I was so happy that what we did together as a school and a community was big enough to have the street name changed.
Being able to have a role in changing the street name to Fannie Lou Hamer Street was a great honor for me. This amazing experience started with what I thought was just a little competition. I never knew it would bloom into this beautiful flower.
By Janine Castro, Sophomore at Fannie Lou Hamer High School