Black Student Union reflects on Black History Month

Leena Hussein, Senior Staff Writer

Congressional candidate and guest speaker Ajwang Rading speaks to Palo Alto High School’s Black Student Union about progressing a career in politics as a Black male Feb. 9. The BSU has historically been a place for students to celebrate their race and culture while becoming aware of the inequalities some students face. According to BSU Vice President Jaelyn Mitchell, Black History Month is meaningful to many club members. “Black History Month is very significant,” Mitchell said. “It’s like a celebration for us to see how far we [the Black community] have come as people.” (Photo: Leena Hussein)

From discussions about racial discrimination and ethnic representation to inspiring guest speakers, Palo Alto High School’s Black Student Union club offers its students a welcoming community — and at no time is the group more active than during Black History Month.

According to Paly BSU President Maia Johnsson, the club is holding more events this February to increase racial awareness at Paly and to celebrate Black students’ culture.

For example, the club invited congressional candidate Ajwang Rading as a guest speaker to answer members’ questions about his journey as an African-American male in politics, and plans to have more similar speakers.

Additionally, Johnsson said she is looking to organize more school-wide events to celebrate the culturally historic month with all students. 

“We are going to try and do a school wide simple dress-up day for the end of Black History Month, and we also want to have a barbecue and have some club members bring in food that represents themselves,” Johnsson said. 

Paly BSU Treasurer Keely Washington said this month is crucial to understanding the progress made, as well as the work that needs to be done by the community as a whole to improve racial equality

“This month isn’t necessarily significant for everyone, but necessary for everyone to genuinely reflect on the past, present, and future,” Washington said.

Johnsson said that BSU this year has gained over 20 students, but she hopes that number will continue to grow. 

We really get to know each other and bond,” Johnsson said. “We want as many people to join as possible, not only black people. We would love to have other races there as well because we talk about issues relating to the Black community that I think would be really helpful for an extended audience to hear.”

The club historically has been a place for students to come together and celebrate race and diversity. Senior and BSU Vice President Jaelyn Mitchell said she only this year started to feel more comfortable regarding her place in Paly.

I decided to join BSU because I’m part of [the] less than 2% of the Black population here on campus,” Mitchell said. “It’s vital that we have a safe space but also to create a community with each other. There is just a different vibe when I have people that look like me sitting all in one classroom. … I’ve been at Paly for four years now and I didn’t have a lot Black friends here till my senior year.” 

BSU has continued to encourage members to join, and for some, like Freshman Sebastian Godfrey, the club is an extension of a community in middle school that he could find sanctuary in.

“I decided to join the club because I was in a BSU in middle school and it was a very fun experience, and I made a lot more friends,” Godfrey said. “I’m excited to celebrate my history and celebrate the people who have done a lot for the Black community.” 

According to Johnsson, club members also watch television shows such as “Blackish” and “Madea”, discuss articles surrounding racism, eat food and play games together during meetings in order to get to know each other.

Washington said the club also hopes to bring awareness and change to the injustices experienced by the Black community at Paly.

“There are continuous issues with students, administrators, teachers ignoring the experiences and criticisms of the Black Paly community and that’s something that we hope can change,” Washington said. “Just relating to Black health and wellness, it again ties back to support.” 

Johnsson hopes that through BSU, real change can be brought about on campus.

“Micro-aggressions are a big issue at Paly and effect many Black students and people of color, so if peers could think about what they say before they do, it could have a great impact,” Johnsson said. “It sounds simple but that would really change a lot between their [students’ of color] relationships.”

Editor’s Note: Maia Johnsson is a sports editor for The Paly Voice