Black History Month was established in 1926 in the United States and was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It began as a way of remembering important people and events in history with the primary goal of teaching lessons about black American history in our nation's public schools.
In today’s world, I’d like to think we integrate it all year, however this year, our Black Student Union club (BSU) coordinated some schoolwide activities which fostered this spirit. BSU club president Zyah Cephus and vice president Aeisha Osman wanted to write articles for the broadcast news to air weekly stories about influential people who have made a difference in our country. They also wanted to bring a special presentation for the students at Henry. They wanted to invite Nate Howard, who spoke at the district’s African American Summit to student leaders across the district, to visit Henry. We emailed him and once he heard who was asking and why, he waived his presentation fee and accepted a small grant (to cover travel expenses from Los Angeles to San Diego) from our PHHS Foundation.
The presentation he gave to a crowd of more than 400 students was about breaking away from stereotypes and writing your own story about who you are. Howard’s positive messages were given through his original poetry and by being a strong presence on the stage encouraging the students to participate in various ways. Students were asked to reflect on moments in their lives that were life changing and how that affects who they are today. He asked them to consider writing and telling their story rather than allowing others to do so.
Howard is a noted speaker who graduated from USC. He is the founder of an organization named Movement Be and spends time in after-school programs to inspire others to use poetry and writing as a form to express themselves.
After the event, students were encouraged to give the speaker feedback and one student in the crowd wrote, “I wanted to let you know that it was very special hearing you guys speak at Patrick Henry. My skin isn’t of color, so at first when I was invited, I didn’t feel welcome but you guys made it a lot easier to cope with others in the room. I went home that day after the presentation and told my mom everything that happened.”
Our BSU club has done a wonderful job in celebrating the outstanding work of others, but more importantly, they are focused on being a positive presence on our campus and on other campuses as well. They have taken on a special partnership with Green Elementary where club members volunteer every late-start Monday, by spending on hour on their campus reading to and mentoring young students selected to participate by the Green principal.
Principal Sandra McClure sent the following shout-out to our students for their support and help. She stated, “For the last few months, our Green students have worked in partnership with Henry’s Black Student Union. The Henry Patriots have been mentors to our Green Geckos. In order to make our meetings possible, our Henry BSU members wake up an hour early on their late-start days to meet with our kids. Together they discuss role models, positive characteristics, and even model exemplary ‘Playground Behavior.’ Our Henry students plan out the lessons and activities, and then come work side by side with our students. This is all done on their own time! We have 24 Green Geckos who have signed up for this opportunity, and there are about 10 Henry mentors who come support us. Our little guys truly look up to their high school mentors, and our mentors have been such an amazing example in so many ways. The Henry team has been so supportive — Mrs. Nix, the BSU advisor, and Listy Gillingham have supported us every step of the way. It truly has been a powerful and meaningful partnership, and I want the Henry Staff and students to know how much we appreciate their support!”
—Elizabeth Gillingham is principal of Patrick Henry High School.