Black Scholars United: aiming to build a community

Maia Johnsson, Senior Staff Writer

As Black Scholars United members walk into the meeting, they are greeted by their advisor, Letitia Burton. With snacks laid on the table and the leaders ready to start the meeting, members sit down and prepare to learn about black history with their friends. That was the typical start to the a BSU club meeting last year. Then, the pandemic struck, and all of that changed.

“Black Scholars United is a club where we create a community who come from a variety of backgrounds but have a common interest and passion in learning about Black history and culture,” senior Noelle Burwell, co-president of the BSU club at Paly said.

BSU student leaders Burwell and senior Wumi Ogunlade are co-presidents of the club, which has been around for seven years. COVID-19 has turned the club virtual, so the club leaders have had to make some changes to the club’s activities.

“We used to be able to go to plays, conferences and field trips, which we can’t do now, so we normally talk about recent events, watch documentaries, and plan our next club events,” Burwell said.

While the BSU club does create a community for students, that isn’t all that it does; the members also want to help inform the community about black history according to Burwell. BSU is partnering with the City of Palo Alto and the Youth Community Service club to host an event around Martin Luther King Jr. Day focusing on MLK’s message about equal rights for all according to Burwell. The virtual event will include a youth panel that will answer questions on current and historical events and their relevance today.

According to Ogunlade, the idea for the event was sparked from all of the police brutality in the news.

Paly graduate and BSU alumni, Elijah Steiner gives a speech at the Palo Alto Juneteenth rally reciting a poem with the message, “with every step forward, a breath.” Elijah was a co-president of  BSU when he was at Paly. Photo by Magali Gauthier

“During BSU we like to talk about what is happening [around us] because we want to help in any way possible because we have a voice,” Ogunlade said, “We can’t just ignore it for the rest of our life, and we are in a time in our lives when we can actually do something.”

During a Black Lives Matter protest over the summer, some BSU members gave speeches to empower in the community. I think this could be smoother if you said: Paly alumnus and previous club member Elijah Steiner gave a speech repeating the line, “With every step forward, a breath.”

According to Ogunlade, while BSU can cover some difficult topics, it is a fun club to be in.

“I like that we watch documentaries — it’s a fun way to learn about history and bond with other students,” Ogunlade said.

To learn more about the club, contact Burwell at [email protected] or Ogunlade at [email protected].