CHICAGO — A group of middle schoolers have been fighting for nearly three years to change the name of Douglas Park to better reflect the neighborhood.
Douglas Park is the size of nearly 25 Solider Fields. It has a boat house, a lagoon, mini golf, five players, a soccer field and an outdoor swimming pool.
But when you ask a group of middle schoolers what it means to them, you get a different story.
“Gun violence, human trafficking, police brutality, robberies, drug crimes, shootings,” they said. “Right now, it’s named after a slaveholder and that’s kind of insulting.”
The park is named after Stephen Douglas, a former U.S. senator from Illinois who was a political rival of Abraham Lincoln.
“He enslaved 123 black people,” the students said.
Which is why nearly three years ago, the group made up of 5th, 6th and 7th graders set out to change the park’s name.
The goal? A simple but powerful one. The students want to add an extra “s” to change the name from Stephen Douglas Park to Frederick Douglass Park.
“He was on the right side of history,” said their former teacher, Bianca Jones.
In March 2017, the students met with North Lawndale’s Alderman Michael Scott Jr.
“He said if we get most of our signatures from North Lawndale and most of the North Lawndale community supports it,” Jones said. “He’s gonna help us change it.”
Together, they presented their case to the Chicago Park District board a few months later. At the time, Ald. Michael Scott Jr. was on board. But it’s been almost two and a half years, and the park’s name has not been officially changed.
In solidarity with the students’ campaign, someone meticulously placed an extra “s” on every single sign in Douglas Park.
“Somebody that read about us that’s really helping us out,” the students said.
But the park district told WGN News they consider the extra “s” vandalism.
While the kids were initially excited, they know it’s not the change they’ve been working toward.
“We want it to be permanent because like, we don’t want it to wash off,” the students said. “We want it to stay there forever.
The students said they are now learning a hard lesson about Chicago politics.
“We should get a little bit more credit because we have been doing this for a long time,” the students said.
The students said Scott Jr. promised them TIF money to change the signs. Just recently though, they said he changed his mind.
“Even though he’s made a promise and wishes us well, I think he’s becoming an obstacle for us,” Jones said.
The students said they’ve worked too hard and for too long to give up now.
“It’s still taking forever, but I feel like we’re going to get there sooner or later,” the students said.