Rising together: Cross Keys’ Phoenix and its future

Adopting a new mascot is about embracing a future that honors our past while looking forward to new beginnings.
Students walk around Cross Keys High School campus during the first day of school for Dekalb County public schools in Atlanta on Aug. 8, 2022. (Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Students walk around Cross Keys High School campus during the first day of school for Dekalb County public schools in Atlanta on Aug. 8, 2022. (Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Since 1958, the students of Cross Keys High School have continuously changed and risen with its community. In contrast, the building has remained more or less the same, as has its dated mascot, the Indians. The site was selected from Curtis family farm land by DeKalb County Superintendent of Schools Jim Cherry in response to population growth.

Naming the new school was easy for the growing community. The area had been known as “Cross Keys” since the early 19th century. In the 1960s, developers were naming new places in the area using a mishmash of Native American references. The new local strip mall? Cherokee Plaza. Nearby streets? Terms of the Mvskoke people were used: Ocmulgee, Coosawattee, Appalachee, and Etowah. The local apartment complex? Indian Village. So, it is not surprising that when it came time to pick a mascot, it was the then-popular term “Indians” for Cross Keys.

Credit: Aiva Genys

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Credit: Aiva Genys

Today, DeKalb County School District is preparing to finally modernize Cross Keys High School. Coincidentally, this year the school community took up the question of replacing its long-standing mascot, too. As an advocate for the school since 2007, I have heard regular talk among some students who wished for a change.

I have been learning about and advocating for the students of Cross Keys across three decades. In that time, I have learned a lot about them and even more from them. I have learned how an incredibly diverse population can learn to get along and celebrate one another, not just tolerate one another. I have learned that things are more complicated than our public discourse would have us believe. And I have learned that the most recent young people at Cross Keys have a special talent for embracing change. Many are immigrants or children of immigrants and have navigated enormous changes in their short lives.

We often meet change with a mix of emotions, especially when it involves something as cherished as a school mascot. For decades, Cross Keys High School has proudly rallied behind the “Indians,” a symbol that many in our community have associated with strength, resilience and unity. Some of the recent students I have known shared with me that they identify at some level with the “brownness” of their school’s mascot even while feeling conflicted about its origins and representations. As our society evolves, it is essential to reflect on the symbols we uphold and ensure they represent the values we cherish and wish to perpetuate.

This year, Cross Keys High School is embarking on a transformative journey. The beloved “Indians” mascot will soon be retired, making way for a new symbol: “The Phoenix.” The Phoenix, a mythical bird that rises from its ashes, embodies renewal, growth and the enduring spirit of our Cross Keys community. This change is not just about adopting a new mascot; it is about embracing a future that honors our past while looking forward to new beginnings.

Coinciding with this mascot change is a monumental $147 million investment in new facilities for the high school. This investment will bring state-of-the-art classrooms, advanced learning environments and innovative curricula, ensuring that our students have the resources they need to succeed in an ever-changing world. The new facilities will serve as a physical manifestation of the Phoenix’s spirit, symbolizing our commitment to providing the best possible environment for our students to learn, grow and thrive, generation after generation.

I understand that change can be difficult, especially for those who have deep emotional ties to the “Indians” mascot. It is important to recognize that the values and principles that the “Indians” mascot represented — strength, resilience and unity — are not being discarded. Instead, they are being re-imagined and carried forward by the Phoenix. The heart of what makes Cross Keys High School special remains unchanged: its dedication to fostering a supportive and ever-changing community where every student can thrive.

During the transition, I invite the entire community to embrace the Phoenix and the exciting future it represents. Let us come together to celebrate our shared values and the bright opportunities that lie ahead. Together, we will rise, stronger and more united than ever before.

In the spirit of the Phoenix, let us look to the future with hope and determination, knowing that the essence of Cross Keys High School students — their spirit, their unity, and their resiliency — remains unbroken.

Kim Gökçe is the founder of the Cross Keys Foundation.