Move taken as part of district inclusivity, diversity efforts
By Traci Chapman
It’s been a part of Mustang High School band program history for about 40 years, but the Nightriders name is no longer a part of its future.
The decision to drop the group’s long-held Nightriders nickname – most prominently used in connection with marching band – came as part of an effort to expand and update inclusivity and diversity districtwide, Mustang Public School District officials said. The first step in implementing the change was to speak with those most impacted – band students currently practicing for this year’s marching season.
Administrators did so in a series of Monday meetings, first with students and then via Zoom with their parents, many of them members of the Mustang High School Band Boosters organization. Both were conducted not only by district band director Ryan Edgmon, but also Superintendent Charles Bradley and Mustang High School principal Dr. Kathy Knowles.
The trio said they first wanted to speak with students about the proposal to drop the Nightriders name; the feedback they received from those students was almost uniformly positive, they said.
“They by and large handled it incredibly mature and they even applauded it,” Bradley said.
Edgmon said after the meeting he was approached by some students who individually told him the issue has been in the shadows for a long time – but that people were uncomfortable saying anything about it.
“And that is the problem,” the director said. “We don’t want a moniker that isn’t about who we are; we are a family.”
The issue was addressed as racial tensions continue throughout the country in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Those men face murder charges for an incident captured on video; the 46-year-old man’s death was a wake-up call to many who said they would no longer turn a blind eye to racism and persecution.
That’s why district officials believed now was the time to address the Nightriders name, they said. Adopted by the band in the mid-1980s, the nickname came about as a way to complement the Bronco school mascot and to uniquely identify the marching band, communications director Kirk Wilson said.
“In the competitive marching arena, the elite or ‘primetime’ performances are held at nighttime; so the goal is to earn the right to play at night under the stadium lights,” Wilson stated in a Monday release. “The words were combined and the catch phrase ‘nightrider’ was born; the logo was then designed by a student who used a medieval style knight as the rider of the horse.”
At the time the name and logo were adopted, there was no internet – and subsequently it wasn’t easy for someone to identify any negative connotations associated with any potential moniker, officials said.
That’s not the case now in the digital age, the superintendent said.
“Do a search online for ‘what is a nightrider’ – you’ll see the definition, it’s the very first thing you see,” Bradley said. “That definition is certainly not indicative of what our program, what our kids, what our staff is all about.”
Nightriders historically were a band of men who rode at night, terrorizing and intimidating African Americans across the south during Reconstruction following the Civil War. Their actions were taken, according to scholars, in great part as a response to Congress in 1867 passing a second Reconstruction Act that gave black American men the right to vote. Nightriders were historically linked with the Klu Klux Klan, although not all of them were members of that organization, those scholars said.
Mustang’s road to greater diversity predated the Floyd murder. It was in November administrators discovered an issue with a substitute high school teacher covering an English class. That woman, students reported – statements backed up by video taken of her – read aloud portions of the 1960 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
While widely considered a classic, the book also engenders controversy – because it contains a racial slur within its pages. Although at least one student asked the teacher to stop using the word, she persisted – an action that led Mustang Board of Education to approve a new policy clarifying the district’s stance on what it referred to as “racially charged language.”
With the Floyd murder reopening wounds and once again shining a light on racial inequalities and persecution, district officials took yet another step in mid-July, adopting a diversity resolution during the board’s July meeting.
“Mustang Public School District Board denounces racism in all forms and commits to
providing a safe and supportive school environment that ensures both the physical and emotional safety of students and staff…” the district stated in that resolution. “…the board commits to instituting school policies and setting an educational curriculum that reflects the values expressed in this resolution via training of staff and teachers, the inclusion of diverse resources to supplement in-class curricula, and the creation of safe spaces for students to address these issues.”
That resolution was made possible thanks to district administrators’ work with diversity and inclusion consultant Dr. Jason Kirksey; it was imperative to continue those efforts by making another change and dropping a name that had connotations to a shameful part of American history, Bradley said.
“Do I believe the Mustang Nightrider band is racist? Absolutely no,” the superintendent told parents. “It was simply that the decision was made that this name did not meet the standard of what our band program was about, that it did not reflect the diversity and inclusion we believe are fundamental in Mustang.”
The Mustang band program is comprised of Edgmon and eight other teachers, offering to students at seven school sites a course of study that has exploded in participation in recent years – with 1,400 students enrolled districtwide in band last year. While parents asked for officials to assign a new name to the band, Bradley and Edgmon said that would possibly come later; students, teachers and staff must now concentrate on practicing for a program complicated by COVID-19.