On February 16, the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) held a student-run Black History Month celebration and discussion in lieu of their monthly meeting.
The Tuesday gathering featured speeches, songs, and presentations from members of the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) community. “[The PTSA hadn’t] really done anything for Black History Month so far,” said Suhera Nuru, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) and student president of the PTSA. “[This meeting] was a way for us to bring in student perspectives and also celebrate Black History Month, especially during this time where we can’t really celebrate anything together.”
The meeting began with a recorded speech by School Board Director Laura Babitt on the importance of Black History Month. Babitt shared her personal experience with growing up as one of the only Black students in her classroom, and her original dislike of being singled out each February. “I went home from school and said … ‘Why do we even need to learn this?’ ” Babitt recalled. “[My mother] told me … ‘You need to know what our ancestors have gone through, and in spite of all of that, that we are here today.’ ”
Babitt recounted how her parents had taught her the qualities and morals of her ancestors: strength, perseverance, integrity, resilience, imagination, and talent. She described how those values have helped shape her life, and applauded Berkeley High School (BHS) students for displaying them in their inspiring ongoing fight for social justice. After the video, Babitt joined the PTSA Zoom to sing the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.
Segueing into the discussion section of the meeting, Nuru invited Lyndon Ward and Hanim Nuru, two members of the Berkeley High Black Student Union (BSU), to share a slideshow on the history and goals of the BSU. They described the lowered enrollment of Black students at Berkeley High School (BHS) and recent racist incidents in school that have exemplified the need for social change. The presentation outlined demands made by the BSU at the end of the 2019-20 school year, including education on police brutality, racism, and corrupt systems, as well as punishment for racist actions and increased funding for the Africain American Studies Department.
In the discussion following the BSU presentation, students and parents came forward to talk about the lack of diversity in BHS small schools and the need for a more concrete curriculum covering Black history.
“[Black History Month] is all about being able to celebrate that we’re more than just Black lives.” said Nuru. “We’ve shown in the past that we’re more than just our skin color. We are not just our past, we’re more than that. We are activists, we are performers, we are artists.”
Update: edited to correct name.