Student Spotlight for Black History Month: ACHS Black Student Union
Black Student Union (BSU) is a proactive force comprised of collective souls amplifying Black student voices to create change at Alexandria City High School (ACHS). BSU President Miracle Gross uses those words to describe the club. “We are committed to honest discussion and anti-racism.” Gross says BSU aspires to build proactive leaders dedicated to action and enhancing social consciousness about African American experiences, history and culture. “We recognize and appreciate the beauty in all Blackness and will break the chains of internalized racism.”
BSU was founded in 1967 by student activists that the group is still connected to and with whom it still works. The club was re-established in the early 2000s at ACHS. Ever since, the organization has gained momentum. It serves as a supportive and enlightening environment for Black students and the ACHS communities. Its gatherings include weekly meetings, events and schoolwide celebrations of Black culture, especially during Black History Month.
The club is a welcoming space for Black students at ACHS. It advocates for students while combating racial discrimination by placing an emphasis on education. Gross explains, “BSU addresses multiple topics that affect the African American diaspora such as the history of racism, the school-to-prison pipeline, cultural appropriation, higher education for the Black community, cultural holidays and other issues.”
Gross believes “student voice” is crucial to feel empowered and engaged. BSU aims to provide a space for Black students to discuss their experiences. She says students need to vocalize their struggles, especially as the world at large has been facing racism and a raging pandemic. “It’s no secret that when someone doesn’t have an outlet, the weight on the shoulders begins to bottle up. And because they have no outlet, no guidelines or no safe space, they begin to express their anger, their hurt and their agony by what the school system calls ‘acting out.’” BSU would like to see this addressed, so that it does not lead to the school-to-prison pipeline.
Gross says BSU suggests holding focus group circle discussions regarding student experiences to include world and social issues. They believe such an outlet would give students a chance to share experiences and express their emotions allowing them to focus on education when they are in their classroom. She adds, “If we begin to place a greater emphasis on alternative discipline methods, rather than detention or suspension, it can lead to significant improvement in student retention and success.”
The 2023 Black History Month theme of resistance puts into focus for BSU the struggle to resist the oppression of bloodline, culture and success. Gross says this month pays homage to that history as it sheds light on how the need to uphold resistance continues in the 21st century. “Black people have had to consistently push the United States to live up to its ideals of freedom, liberty and justice for all.”
BSU’s celebration of Black History Month at ACHS includes a door decorating contest to represent a figure or movement that exemplifies Black resistance. The Black Box Theatre is exploring various components of Black resistance and includes guest speaker Dr. David Stovall, professor at the University of Illinois Chicago. The role of music in Black resistance is among other lecture hall series topics.
Gross says you cannot move forward without acknowledging the past. “Learning from the past also enables us to avoid mistakes in the future and guide society in more positive directions.” In October, BSU joined the Alexandria City Remembrance Project (ACRP) on its pilgrimage to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Alabama. It was there to deliver soil that symbolized the lives of Alexandria’s two known lynching victims, Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas. For the students, this experience helped provide a deeper understanding of Alexandria’s history and served as a reminder that the work to create a welcoming community bound by equity and inclusion is continual.
“I would advance the idea that one of the most authentic ways for students to gain a better understanding of the social, political and economic injustices of the present day is to study both the triumphs and mistakes of the past in order to frame the present in a way that allows us to improve the future,” explains Ra Alim Shabazz, BSU staff advisor and ACHS social studies teacher. Shabazz adds, “History is only relevant if we allow it to inform us of the best ways we can affirm freedom, justice and equality for all.”
When it comes to leadership today, Gross says young people in the Black community may look to athletes, artists, politicians and other celebrities, but she believes students are heavily influenced by educators, including administrators and coaches. “Educators provide the mirrors that students can see their reflections in.”
- black history