Young Activists Fight to Tell Their Story and Overcome Stereotypes

Pictured L to R: Nyera Ofusu-Davis, Micah Sumpter, Elijah Bailey, Akeicya Robbins, Zara Hill and Mekayla Lundy

The following excerpt was written by Zara Hill; a member of the Black Student Union at West Springfield High School, in Virginia.

I am a 17 year old junior at West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia. I am involved in Black Student Union (BSU), a new club here at WSHS. Every year at my school we hold a MANDATORY ATTENDANCE Black History Month assembly in the month of February. In prior years it has been handled by teachers or leadership. This year however due to leadership not wanting to be involved and the creation of the BSU we were allowed the great opportunity to put together this assembly to educate the school community on our history and culture. We have put in many hours during and after school to make this assembly the best it could possibly be under the impression we would have two 30 minutes shows during the school day which the whole school was required to attend.

Yesterday, February 9, 2016, we were informed that unlike years before the Black History Month assembly would be one show for an hour that would be OPTIONAL ATTENDANCE for students and teachers. This morning at 7:30 am members of the BSU, including myself, talked to the principal and an admin about why the change was put in place, why were not informed of this change earlier, and to voice our concerns and opinions regarding the sudden change. We all sat in the conference room for about 30 minutes discussing the issue. They did admit that they were wrong in this situation because they failed to tell us it has been an OPTIONAL assembly from the start. For that we were all very grateful. However when asked about why this assembly was made OPTIONAL while every other assembly has been and will remain MANDATORY we did not get a straightforward answer.

At this point we were all frustrated with the direction this conversation seemed to be going. Though disheartened, annoyed, frustrated, blatantly disrespected we continued to conduct ourselves as young adults to the best of our ability. We had no outbursts of the emotions we were feeling, no one cut the adults off while they were talking, we stayed in order the whole time. Our principal still found reason to believe we were being “hostile” towards him.

This is where the problem really started. He then went on to tell us how the teachers would rather us spend our learning seminars in class for educational purposes. To my knowledge learning seminars are NOT supposed to be for teaching but a time for students to study materials given to them beforehand. By him saying this we took it to mean him nor the teachers believed a Black History Month assembly would be educational.

The majority of our school’s race is white. They use the words Nigga, Nigger, and Negro on a regular basis. They ask questions and make comments about our hair, our black features, our backgrounds, that should NEVER even be a thought to come out of their mouths. They have set stereotypes about us that make us seem much less than we are. We are categorized as “them” or when being talked to “you guys” “your kind/type” or “your people”. This is what we tried to explain to our principal to get him to understand why this is a necessary educational assembly.

Black people our outright disrespected everyday in our school. A kid walked around the school for an entire day with a confederate flag shirt on that read “Redneck Lives Matter”. Nothing was done to stop him. We also brought this issue up in the meeting. The answer we got from out principal was “This is Virginia. The confederate capital.” This is when our administrator began to talk. She also apologized for them “dropping the ball” but also stuck with the principal on how the assembly was made to be OPTIONAL from the beginning. Once again we asked why is this assembly OPTIONAL when every year before it’s been MANDATORY and why is the Black History Month assembly the only OPTIONAL assembly this year. The answer we got was even worse than the principal’s. She told us that she wouldn’t want anybody to sit through anything they were not interested in and how education comes first. Two very wrong statements on her part. We are forced to sit through many things in school that we are not interested in which are not in any way educational.

The homecoming assembly and pep rally for example; I know quite a few students who would rather not be sitting in the gym watching the dance team performance or the sports teams be presented. But these assemblies and pep rallies are MANDATORY. We cannot opt out and choose not to go though we are not learning anything that will benefit us in the future. The same way that we are not able to not go to useless pep rallies we should not be able to not go to an educational assembly. At the end of the meeting we were told that they will “try” to see what they can do to make this assembly MANDATORY but once again education comes first.

The Black History assembly is educational. Our school NEEDS to know who we are and who we are not. We are not all thugs in jail. We are not all ghetto or ratchet. We do graduate and become doctors and lawyers even presidents. We are every bit as important as any other race. Today in that meeting we felt as if we were being told that we do not matter enough to be able to show the whole school who we really are. Today we were disrespected by our principal and administration. The BSU has been working from the start to educate the school and try to make them see US as a people and not what they hear on the radio or see on the news or in movies or on tv. All we want to do is be recognized for who we really are as young black people.

Today, we were told that most likely we will not get the recognition we deserve because we aren’t as important as the dance team or people on sports teams. This isn’t about a show or an assembly it’s about West Springfield High School not caring about their Black community. The BSU will not stop until we get everyone to listen to what we have to say. Black People matter too🏽🏾🏿. Please share to get the word out about what is happening at my school.