A high school previously known as Vaughan Secondary School has officially changed its name to Hodan Nalayeh Secondary School in honour of a Somali-Canadian journalist from the area who tragically passed away in 2019.
Ten out of 12 trustees in the York Region District School Board voted to confirm the name after many months of mobilizing from Black community organizations and others who said the school’s name should accurately reflect the diverse community instead of being named for Benjamin Vaughan — an 18th century slave owner who openly opposed abolition.
The board officially voted to change the school’s name back in September and released a short-list of potential new names, which included Nalayeh, Elie Wiesel, Harry Jerome, Mary Ann Shadd, Raoul Wallenberg, Shannen Koostachin, Simon Wiesenthal, Tanya Khan and Walter Rolling.
“It is with a heavy-heart and with a deep sense of gratitude that the Nalayeh Family accepts the community’s recommendation and in turn the York Region District School Board’s decision to rename the school in question with Hodan’s name,” reads a statement shared to Nalayeh’s twitter account by her family.
“With it, comes a tremendous responsibility to uplift and support all students, their families and the communities they are a part of whether local to the school or across our great region.”
The family said they were deeply humbled by the community’s decision to choose Nalayeh as the school’s namesake, adding that they are eternally grateful for the support from Shernett Martin of ANCHOR, almost all Black community organizations as well as members and organizations from the Jewish community, Muslim community, 2SLGBTQ+ community and more.
“We are also eternally grateful for the letter of endorsement as written by Chief Donna Big Canoe on behalf of Band Council, the @ChippewasofGI, and presented to the @YRDSB Board of Trustees in support of the local Black community and its wishes,” they said.
Until her tragic death following an al-Shabaab attack on a hotel in Somalia, Nalayeh was known for telling stories about the Somali community in Vaughan, particularly women and children, and for launching her own television show on OMNI TV in Toronto.
In addition to overwhelming calls for the school’s name to be changed, many community members also called for the city of Vaughan itself to be renamed back in June after discovering the historical figure’s fraught history of slavery and racism.