The new identity of the former Kit Carson International Academy, Umoja International Academy
The new identity of the former Kit Carson International Academy, Umoja International Academy
River Poletti

District renames school to remove honoring pioneer with questionable past

 Sac City District changes Kit Carson high school to Umoja International Academy

Kit Carson International Academy students returned from their summer break as students of Umoja International Academy.

The new name was originally named Kit Carson, after the fur trapper and frontiersman Christopher “Kit” Carson,  when the school was originally founded in 1933.

The name Umoja (pronounced oo-MOH-juh) is a Swahili word that means “community” or “unity,” said junior Emma Zahbibi, the meaning behind the word adds to the impact of the name change. 

Carson, however, was an adversary to many indigenous tribes, especially those in New Mexico. Because of this racist past, the Sacramento City Unified School District board voted in favor of a rename. With that came the need to change murals, signs, website logos and more. 

“I believe that the name change is good, and a lot better than Kit Carson, since he was a really racist person,” said Emma Zahbibi, an incoming junior at Umoja.

Story continues below advertisement

Avalon Chamberlain graduated from Kit Carson in the spring, and said the name change could be complicated – or not.

“There could be some instances where it’s become an elaborate thing to explain . . . but other than that, I can’t see it becoming something that terribly affects my life,” Chamberlain said.

Although Chamberlain is not too worried about this change she sees some complications.

“It is strange to consider I’ll be saying I graduated from a school that essentially doesn’t exist by the name of Kit Carson,” Chamberlain said. “But it feels like a change that even the teachers are excited to be a part of.”

Many Umoja teachers said the new name is the first step in a phase of the school’s journey toward inclusivity.

“It’s a little bit exciting to see that change occur,” said Christine Helweh, a visual arts teacher who has been working at the Umoja campus for 23 years. “The concept of community is a great selection for our school to embody, which carries on with our school’s ideology that we are continuing to strive for.”

Many proponents of the new name said its a reclamation of communal union, rather than the separation of a community, something the faculty and staff of the original Kit Carson supported. However, because Kit Carson targeted the Navajo tribe in New Mexico, specifically using scorched earth methods to starve the Navajo, forcing them to trek hundreds of miles to a internment camp which resulted in thousands of deaths and the incarceration of the surviving people, a name change was proposed by the Sacramento City Unified School District. 

“Since Umoja means unity and community, it’s supposed to show how our school is strong with one another, and that our community is important,” Zahbibi said. “Our school already has a fairly bad reputation surrounding race. … I believe the name change is to redeem ourselves . . . and a right step to making our school a better place.”

Kit Carson International Academy replaced two teachers within the last few years in part because of racial slurs that were used in inappropriate situations, something that damaged the school’s reputation.

Not everyone, however, is fully onboard with the new name.

“I didn’t think the change was necessary,” said Pedro Valdivia, an Umoja senior. He said the change isn’t necessarily bad, just a change in familiarity.

Valdivia, like Helweh and Chamberlain, said it’s the loss of something they knew so well that makes the new name a bit difficult to accept. But he and others said they were generally positive about the change.

“I have full hope for the name because it has such a good meaning, unity,” Zahbibi said. “And that’s what our school needs. It needs unity, and community and connection.”


View Comments (1)
Donate to Sacramento School Beat
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Student Education Reporter program. Your contribution will allow us to hire more student journalists to cover education in the Sacramento region.

More to Discover
Donate to Sacramento School Beat
Our Goal

Comments (1)

All Sacramento School Beat Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • A

    AnonymousSep 13, 2023 at 3:00 pm

    This is amazing, great reporting! I’m glad schools are taking steps to make their campus a more diverse place!