From left, Tyler ISD, Robert E. Lee High School sophomore Trude Lamb, Earl Campbell and Lamb’s brother, Felix, who is in 8th grade, at Campbell’s Tyler home on Monday night.

Trude Lamb is a sophomore in high school and wrote a letter about the name of her school. Her mom shared it, with her permission, on social media.

This is a girl who runs cross country. Not football, not baseball, not basketball.

Distance running is not a sport where athletes usually have a voice. High School student Katelyn Tuohy appeared on the Sports Illustrated cover in 2018 but shared it with quarterback JT Daniels. Before that, the only ones who come to mind are Bill Rogers in 1978 and Steve Prefontaine in 1970.

A one-sentence background on Trude’s letter to Tyler ISD school board concerning a potential vote to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School or keep it the same: Trude is from Ghana, Africa and came to America in 2014 and said she came from where slaves began and does not want to play sports with REL or Tyler Lee on her jersey and gave the reasons she feels the name is bringing the city down. Lamb’s mother, Laura Owens, shared the letter on Facebook.

After it was shared, it made the news.

Clicking on one post on one local TV station, the most “relevant” comments come up. Just five of them say: “Don’t run, drop out if you can’t support your school.” “But she does not have the right to choose for everyone. She should change schools if she doesn’t like it.” “I think it’s rude you come from another country and try to change things here.” “She came from another country and is now trying to change our school names. Go back to your country and try to change them. I bet you won’t get the warm response you get here. If you don’t like it ... Leave.” “Come from another country and dislike what you see in the new country so you protest for change? Seriously? Protest that in the country you came from. Here in America you have freedom to not participate and to attend another school that coincides with your belief system.”

Her story appeared on CNN, Newsweek, the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, People and more.

These were the comments the family read. Sure, there were many comments of support, but those were loud.

As they were absorbing this, Owens’ cell phone rang.

“Mrs. Owens? This is Earl Campbell,” said the voice on the other end.

Lamb made the visit happen, but only around her work schedule. As a high school student, she knows the value of finding summer employment.

“He saw the coverage and wanted to reach out and say how much he appreciated her and he supported her and he was proud and commended the stance she was taking,” said Owens. “With Trude, when she made the decision to write the letter without telling anyone. I shared her letter with permission. Out of sharing and going viral it fueled and exposed a lot of ugliness in Tyler. Honestly, when she found out it went viral she said, ‘No, I don’t want to be famous.’ But she is finding her voice and it’s beautiful to watch happen.”

The family went to Campbell’s family home in Tyler on Monday night and had dinner. He signed Houston Oilers football jerseys for them. Of course, Campbell doesn’t need much of an introduction, even though it’s common to explain who a person is in an article during the first reference. A John Tyler graduate, Campbell is in the College Football hall of Fame for his play at the University of Texas and the NFL Hall of Fame for his professional career. He gives back to children and Phil Hicks, sports editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, helps the committee with the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, one of the most prestigious awards in college football annually.

“We had a great time. He was a generous man. He was interested in her and her story, he was very genuine. It was a really neat experience and a positive night,” said Owens. “ It was a meaningful conversation, he is just a supreme super Tylerite.”

But the actual conversation was the important part.

“He said he talked to (Tyler ISD Superintendent) Dr. Marty Crawford and supported the name change. I hope that that will happen. Tyler has a really interesting opportunity to lead the way in racial reconciliation and pave the way to help other cities facing the same issues we are facing in Tyler,” said Owens. “We can show the world what a wonderful city Tyler is and we can change racism ... we can set the tone, the country is looking at us right now.”

At the last Tyler ISD board meeting, four residents spoke up on reasons to keep the one school name Robert E. Lee. A vote could come by August to change both names. There has been no discussion on changing the base-name “Tyler” on anything from the city or school. The issue appears to be naming buildings after people.

Owens is hoping for change and keeping her thoughts to herself ... for now.

“Trude for one, her story is her story to share, but she is resilient and strong because of what she has lived through. Any viral comments are nothing compared to what she has risen above. She is wise above her years,” said Owens. “She was doing a national interview and was more worried about getting back to work before her break ended. As parents, it affirms why we take the protections we do for our black children. Overt racism has its perks, it tells us where not to shop and who to hang around with. We have a dropbox of screen shots of businesses and teachers who have black children in their classrooms who have (made) racist and xenophobic (posts).”

Owens pointed out one other thing that stayed with her about Campbell: he knew she was from Africa and wanted to learn.

“He said he would love to have us over for dinner to talk and share our culture,” said Owens. “For Trude, who keeps hearing, ‘you are not a citizen and you don’t have rights,’ it was so good to hear from such an amazing man.”

twitter @23johnanderson


John is a two-time national columnist of the year. He has earned top AP awards for news, videos and sports writing and won the Thomas J. Bulson Investigative Journalism award. He has appeared on CNBC's American Greed, FOX News and CNN.

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