McClymonds High School students voted to replace their Native American mascot with these renderings of African warriors. Illustrations by Anika Janell

Ten months after a group of McClymonds High School students started a petition to change their school’s mascot, a new image is being adopted to replace the Native American icon that was a part of the West Oakland school’s identity for decades. 

While the imagery will be different, the name of McClymonds’ mascot and sports teams, the “Warriors,” will remain the same. 

A committee of McClymonds students and alumni met with Principal Jeffrey Taylor and other OUSD staff over the past six months to develop image ideas, and the entire McClymonds student body voted during the first week of school and selected two: One features a Black man in profile, raising a spear and shield. The other image depicts a Black woman and man wearing traditional African warrior attire. The new images are influenced by warriors from the Ashanti, Zulu, and Masai tribes of Africa, and were designed by Anika Janell, a McClymonds alumna who graduated from the school in 2008. 

The push to remove the old mascot was initially met with resistance from the school’s active alumni community, many of whom felt that the warrior embodied the resilient spirit of McClymonds students. But the petition gathered more than 18,000 signatures within several months of being online, resulting in deeper conversations within the school community.

Asia Ragland, one of the students who started the petition, said that the old mascot—a generic rendering of a Native American man wearing a headdress—seemed inconsistent with a school that serves mostly Black students. Ragland, who graduated from McClymonds earlier this year, had been wanting to bring up the issue since they were a freshman.

A mural wall outside of the McClymonds High School gymnasium depicting warriors of different cultures. Credit: Amir Aziz

“I wanted to do this before I graduated because it’s been bothering me since the ninth grade,” Ragland said. “I’ve grown as a person since then and tried to be more inclusive. We should have something that isn’t offensive to the Indigenous community and uplifts the Black community since this school is majority Black.”

Indigenous groups have objected to caricatures of Native Americans used for school and sports mascots, saying they perpetuate stereotypes of native groups as barbaric, and are often the only impression that many people have of Indigenous people. Professional sports teams, like the NFL’s Washington, D.C. team and MLB’s Cleveland team, have dropped or intend to drop their teams’ names and imagery.

McClymonds isn’t the only high school in the Bay Area to change its mascot in recent years after facing petitions and demonstrations from students and community members who found it offensive. A Vallejo school dropped its “Apache” mascot in 2013, and in 2018 a Napa high school changed its mascot from the “Indians” to the “Grizzlies.”

The push at McClymonds was mainly driven by students, who emphasized that they weren’t trying to change the name of the mascot, the warrior, but the image that represents it. Still, the petition caused a rift between some students and alumni, who feared that changing the mascot could invite more unwelcome changes to the 106-year-old school.

Warrior mascot on the gym floor for McClymonds High School in Oakland, California
The head of a Native American man was painted on McClymonds’ gym floor before the gym was renovated in June by the Warriors Community Foundation. Credit: Amir Aziz

“The students felt that the other image was insensitive to Indigenous, native people,” said La’Cole Martin, who graduated from McClymonds in 2000. “It was really hard to receive what they were saying and to really see their perspective on things, because it was just so opposite of what we felt, which was the honor and acknowledgement of Indigenous people in the warrior—and we take pride in that.”

Resiliency, endurance, and perseverance were some of the traits that the committee suggested McClymonds warriors embodied, and what they wanted a new mascot image to represent. The school has faced numerous challenges in recent years, including declining enrollment, toxic chemicals on campus, and shootings near the school. The demographics of West Oakland, where the school has been located since 1938, are also changing, causing some to question how gentrification could impact the school’s existence. Despite those challenges, the school has a reputation for championship-winning football and basketball teams, and well-known alumni, including actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen, former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, rapper MC Hammer, and multiple professional athletes. 

If kept, the old mascot image could possibly have been found to be in violation of the school district’s nondiscrimination policy, which states that all OUSD “programs and activities” should be “free of any racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames.”

Alumni eventually came around to the idea, seeing it as an opportunity to create a new legacy with the current students and design a mascot that embodies the school’s decades of serving mostly Black students and families in West Oakland. 

McClymonds students voted during the first week of school and selected two images, one of a Black man in profile, raising a spear and shield. The other image is of a Black woman and man wearing traditional African warrior attire. The new images are influenced by warriors from the Ashanti, Zulu, and Masai tribes of Africa, and designed by Anika Janell, a McClymonds alumna who graduated from the school in 2008. 

“There’s an element of honoring that McClymonds has historically been a school that has served predominantly African-American students, which is the connection to the African warrior,” said Vanessa Sifuentes, an OUSD high school administrator who also served as the facilitator for the committee.

The previous mascot had largely been phased out over time, Sifuentes said, but there are still several images on campus that will need to be removed: an icon on the outside wall of the gymnasium, which district staff estimate could cost $6,400 to remove, banners throughout the building celebrating the McClymonds Warriors, previous graduating classes, and sports teams, and a trophy case that features an image of a Native American man wearing a headdress.

Inside the gym, a depiction of a Native American man and dreamcatcher imagery appeared on the walls and floor of the basketball court until this summer, when the Golden State Warriors Foundation renovated the court

“Even though I don’t go to the school anymore, I would be proud of the mascot they chose. It’s a new step for this school and the students that will be going there,” Ragland said. “The native community has said so many times that they don’t want to be represented as mascots, so we give them their humanization back by changing the mascot.”

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.