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Monday, December 11, 2023

Activities & Organizations

‘Road to Change’ initiative looking to rename Calhoun Road

The ‘Road to Change’ initiative, created by UH faculty and students, is looking to gain momentum in their effort to change the name of Calhoun Road because of the name’s ties to slavery. | Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

The ‘Road to Change’ initiative is seeking to gain more momentum in their efforts to change the name of Calhoun Road to Wilkerson Way, in honor of a Third Ward tennis coach who gave back to his community.

The initiative was created by a combination of faculty and students in the UH Honors Bonner Leaders program and members from the Zina Garrison Tennis Academy in August of 2020. 

“I asked students to talk to me about the world they were living in and the changes they’d like to see in their community,” said Honors College professor Douglas Erwing. 

In coherence to the students’ response, Erwing suggested the concept for the ‘Road to Change’ initiative. 

Through their research, the Bonner Leaders on the ‘Road to Change’ initiative discovered that John C. Calhoun was a champion for slave ownership rights

“Calhoun wasn’t ambivalent about how he felt about slavery, he was all for it,” Erwing said.  

Senior business major Rida Sarwar echoed the disappointment students had in discovering the history behind Calhoun.

“It’s rooted in a racist history that does not reflect the values or diversity that the University of Houston triumphs,” Sarwar said. 

This isn’t the first time there’s been discussion of a name change, last summer there was a petition being circulated to name the road in honor of George Floyd, a Third Ward native who died as a result of police brutality.

Ewing said that the issue of Calhoun road became something personal for those involved with the initiative.

“More important than just taking down Calhoun’s name, was the idea of putting up a new name with a purpose,” Erwing said. “It wouldn’t be long before the students found their new name.”

After learning that the Houston based Zina Garrison Tennis Academy was already looking for a way to honor coach John Wilkerson, the students decided to partner with the fellow community members in the effort. 

“After interviewing members of the academy, I found that each person has a story of how John made them feel special or important,” said Maham Gardezi, a senior bioengineering major.

In a documentary produced by members of the initiative, former students recall the guidance that Wilkerson provided in their lives, one student even said that Wilkerson gave him his life back. 

According to Gardezi, Wilkerson touched lives in a variety of ways. Standing in McGregor park, Wilkerson would make tennis players out of wandering kids, some of them eventually going pro like the former professional tennis player, Olympian and lifelong Third Ward Houstonian, Zina Garrison. 

Today, Gardezi and Sarwar go from door to door to get the signatures of property owners required for the next step of changing the name of the road. 

Meanwhile, their other team members of the Bonner Leaders are working on their specialized fields such as research, marketing, road and property laws. 

“The process has been a really beautiful experience,” said Gardezi. “I hope that this is going to help the community realize that change is possible and that we don’t have to celebrate historical figures that don’t represent our values.” 

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