The mascot for Friendly High School in Fort Washington is "The Patriot," which is portrayed in pictures of 10 Revolutionary War "Minutemen," all white, on murals along the school gymnasium walls.
That's the way it's been since Friendly High opened in 1970, when the student body was 99 percent white. Today, the school is 84 percent black. But as far as most of the 1,400-member student body is concerned, the murals can stay as they are.
It sounds like a case of "race fatigue," to coin a phrase used by Shelby Steele in his book, "The Content of Our Character." Steele believes that many black people have simply grown tired of haggling over racial issues that whites consider petty.
Does it really matter that some soldiers in the Revolutionary War were black?
It does to Chad X. Larkin, a 16-year-old sophomore at Friendly High, who has single-handedly battled to get black war heroes included in the murals. Thank Carter G. Woodson, a former Howard University professor and the father of Black History Month, for that.
Chad has read Woodson's book, "The Miseducation of the Negro," and believes that more than racial weariness keeps many blacks from challenging the omissions and distortions of their images in American life.
"African Americans are taught to love Germans, Hebrews, French and English and to hate the African," Chad said. "When you understand that, you must view your surroundings from a different perspective."
From the first day Chad entered the Friendly High gym, he felt slighted by what he saw.
"I play basketball in the gym each day and a voice always popped in my head, 'Where are the black patriots?' " Chad said. "I knew that blacks had fought heroically for America in all of her wars, so I vowed to do something about those murals before I graduated."
But how? Although the student body was predominantly black, the faculty and staff remained predominantly white. Would there be repercussions? Some white students and teachers reacted to a black student protest of "Johnny Reb" as the mascot at Fairfax High School in Virginia last year by flying Confederate flags from cars and wearing the emblems on their clothing.
Undaunted, Chad began his protest by criticizing the murals in an article he wrote for his school newspaper. Then he delivered a speech over the school's "interactive" television network. What followed was a summons to see Dennis Curry, the school principal, who is white.
Curry was surprised.
"As I told my faculty, this is the first generation that was born with a television on their cribs and that has made them too passive," Curry said.
"Chad's assertiveness," Curry concluded, "is refreshing."
"Many students are going through life acting like they are merely watching television," Curry added. "They are conscious of what is going on around them, but not enough is sinking in. Chad is different."
Curry gave Chad, who has a 3.3 grade point average, permission to reconstruct the murals in cooperation with the school art department. The new murals are expected to be completed before the end of the month.
Chad credits his success to role models John Thompson, coach of the Georgetown University basketball team, and his father, Hollis Larkin, a program analyst for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"I accept full responsibility for the education of my child," Larkin said proudly. "Chad has been steeped in black history. I took him to his first march in support of the Martin Luther King holiday bill when he was 7 years old, and we continued marching together until victory was won."
"Before my first march," Chad recalled, "my father sat me down for two hours and explained the importance of the African American struggle for equality and justice. I came away knowing that I had an important role to play."
Soon after the war in the Persian Gulf began last month, Chad realized that the time had come for his offensive against the murals.
"I was watching the war on television and not once did I see a black pilot or a black wife being interviewed," he recalled. "I have good friends who graduated from Friendly who are fighting for America and it made me mad to know that they were not even represented on their own school wall."
For Chad Larkin, it mattered that blacks were excluded from American history. To his credit, he had the nerve to do something about it.