Seeking to engage and unify: Spring Lake Park creates Black Student Union to raise awareness

School’s out at Spring Lake Park High School, but a group of students is staying after class, their eyes glued on a PowerPoint presentation.

Topics on the slides cover social justice issues: police brutality, misogyny and black history. It looks like a typical academic discussion, but these 25 students are here for their personal enlightenment.

In April, for the first time in the school district’s history, a Black Student Union formed at Spring Lake Park High School. The club’s purpose is to bring consciousness about the lives of black people and unify the diverse school, a mission statement displayed on banners in the hallways of the school. About a third of the school’s 1,500 students are students of color and about 14 percent are black, according to the school’s website.

Members of the Spring Lake Park Black Student Union sell chicken as a fundraiser during Homecoming Week. (Submitted photo)

Isaaclina George, the president of the Black Student Union, said she helped form the group to build a support system for students of color. Anyone is welcome to come and discuss issues in the black com- munity, she said.

“We don’t have to react to negative racism,” George said. “Violence solves nothing. Troubled kids who make bad decisions and have poor grades are vital. Making them a part of a community with discussions and fun activities will occupy them from making bad choices.”

Many young black students have gotten involved because they are inspired by recent events of police brutality, according to Jeoffrey Reed, the Black Student Union adviser, dean of students and one of the only African-American staff members at Spring Lake Park.

“This is for the kids, man,” Reed said. He added that the club helps students by “making kids feel a part of something, teaching them their history and sparking awareness on what’s going on now.”

Black Student Union meets for about an hour every Friday. Many are active in the discussions, often led by George. Topics range from misogyny to police brutality. The discussions are respectful, and Black Student Union tries to look at both sides of every story and tries to avoid taking a biased viewpoint, George said.

At meetings, members also have discussed differences in a school where some students wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts and others have confederate flags on their cars. Group members say they are trying to educate students about how to deal with the divide.

Student Eunice Dennis said she joined Black Student Union to “find a group of kids I could relate to.”

“There is a divide at our school where social cliques are made up of people with the same race and ethnicity,” said Dennis, the group’s secretary, “and very rarely is there diversity in a social circle.”

But Black Student Union isn’t all serious. The group also has fun.

This was clear on a gloomy day in the gym last May, when about 20 students came to Black Student Union. This was the group’s last gathering before the summer started, and members played volleyball and basketball, and were overcome with laughter.

These were low-income students, National Junior Honors Society students, student council members, athletes and band students, all coming together in one place.

Leah Dante, the Black Student Union parliamentarian, joined the group because she felt she had a duty to inform others about what goes on in the black community.

“There comes a time where, yes, there is oppression,” Dante said, “but you [also] have to just kick back and have fun.”

Disclaimer: Baher Hussein is a member of the Black Student Union.