LAWRENCE, KS – It was on a beautiful Saturday when South Middle School was officially rededicated and renamed to become Billy Mills Middle School. Mills lived in Lawrence for nine years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, attending both Haskell and the University of Kansas. He went on to win the 1964 Olympic gold medal in the 10,000-meter run and later co-founded the nonprofit organization Running Strong for Native American Youth.
The Haskell Indian Nations’ Color Guard kicked off the rededication ceremony with a prayer and song.
Carole Cadue-Blackwood, a member of the Kickapoo tribe, spoke at the ceremony, noting that the renaming was appropriate and important, as the school was built on land donated to the Lawrence school district by Haskell. Cadue-Blackwood proposed the renaming of the school back in 2017.
Jennifer Scotten, librarian at the school and a member of the Apache tribe of Oklahoma, spoke about the importance of Native representation in America, saying the renaming of the school has already brought pride to Native students. “The gravity of today and this celebration is by no means lost on me, and the representation is long overdue.” She noted that Billy Mills Middle School boasts the highest Native population of students of all four middle schools in Lawrence.
Billy Mills Middle School principal Dr. Keith Jones was equally enthusiastic about the name change and said the community is ready to embrace it. “Mr. Mills is a servant leader, he is a global icon, but most importantly, he is a human being that cares about people.”
The rededication ceremony was concluded by an inspirational speech from Billy Mills himself. Mills had spoken with children at the school the day before, telling them, “The footprints laid on Mother Earth of the very first class to attend your school should never be forgotten. Those footprints, up to today, should never be erased, accidentally or purposely, from the journey we’re all seeking for our young people.”
Mills said one boy asked him how he would compare the racism of today with the racism of the past. “The racism today, we know what’s caused it,” said Mills. “Which provides us the answers of how to solve it, if we’re willing. And I know we are willing.”
He went on to tell the kids they could continue to work to ensure America would become a true democracy that represents everyone equally.
“I told the young people that as an elder in my tribe, the elders have visions, and the young people have dreams. And I have a vision for your middle school to become one of the most empowering middle schools in America. I have a dream, also, as an elder. That our young people’s dreams, with your support, can be brought to reality, and we can change the world.”
Mills also encouraged everyone to educate themselves about the Doctrine of Discovery proclaimed by Pope Alexander in 1493, which justified the colonization and seizure of non- Christian lands by Christian travelers. He went on to say that in 1823, the United States of America adopted the Doctrine of Discovery, which would become the western expansion, known as Manifest Destiny. “But if sixty to 100-million Native Americans became Christian, they could own land,” explained Mills. “So then it was determined that we had no souls.”
From that history, said Mills, racism continued and spread in America and has infiltrated every aspect of American life and society. But he has hopes that can be changed.
“The footprints of the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny, treaties signed and treaties broken, slavery, Jim Crow, the new Jim Crow, the war on drugs, designed to make hippies and all young black men felons, had soon spread to all young men of color,” he said. These wrongheaded ideas, he said, “Are etched into every fiber of our educational system in America, every fiber of our social way of life, of our entrepreneurial way into every fiber of our political system, forever dictating our rule of law. Unless we come together.”
Lawrence artist Isaiah Stewart, Lakota/Mohawk, has been painting a mural in the Billy Mills Middle School cafeteria to coincide with the rededication of the school. The mural incorporates a likeness of Billy Mills, as well as imagery from around Lawrence.
(Contact Amber Fraley at firstname.lastname@example.org)