At high school and college campuses nationwide, the Black Student Union exists to provide a place for students of all ethnicities to join together and learn about black culture and issues. BSUs from eight different schools came together on Saturday at Turlock High School for the United Black Student Unions of California Central Region Leadership Roundtable, discussing topics of interest among the black community and encouraging each other to become better leaders on their campuses.
BSUs from THS, Pitman High School, Gregori High School, Davis High School, Enochs High School, Kimball High School, Stanislaus State and University of the Pacific were in attendance at the roundtable, which is just one of three main events that local BSUs partake in annually, said UBSUC advisor Renaldo Rucker. The roundtable is a meet up of Central California schools and prepares the groups for first a larger Central California conference in January, and then, a state convention in March.
“A lot of what we talk about within BSU is just sharing the culture and the challenges,” said Rucker. “We teach them how to embrace that and embrace peers of all nationalities.”
The roundtable event featured two speakers, keynote speaker Brandon Leake and guest speaker Lt. Aaron Tait. Tait, who is from Turlock, has years of experience in law enforcement and has made it a lifetime goal to mentor others. Leake, a young black man from Stockton, travels often to schools where he uses his poetic talent to speak on issues of pertinence to the black community.
“My goal is to leave a trail where I can continue to visit, but hopefully leave framework and design for them so that it can continue on past my time with the students,” said Leake. “I got 20 minutes to talk to them today, which will energize them enough through the next week. There needs to be a sustained force of continuation for these students in order to better themselves.”
The theme of Saturday’s event was, “What’s Black?” Leake used a combination of spoken word poetry and tales of his own experiences growing up black to touch on challenging topics, like what students should do if someone inappropriately asks to touch his or her hair, and inspirational ones as well, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy.
Students also participated in workshops meant to promote leadership, and advisors from the schools’ BSUs came together for a discussion on the challenges they’ve faced and what they would like to see from the groups moving forward.
“They’re going to take everything they learned in these workshops and become better leaders in their schools,” said Rucker. “It’s giving them that strength, courage and motivation to reach their full potential.”
At THS, the school’s first BSU was formed in 2008. Since then, the group has grown annually but typically sees either an equal amount of black and non-black students, or more non-black students than black.
“To be in BSU, students just have to have a desire to learn about black history and black culture – that’s it,” said THS BSU advisor Mary Asgill. “I also encourage black students to join other heritage clubs, because that’s how we get to understand and know about other cultures.”
Leadership, education and socialization are the three main pillars of BSU, said Asgill. Students develop an aptitude for leadership through business leader conferences and job skills workshops, and college is emphasized as a priority for students thanks to college entrance workshops, lectures, documentaries and guest speakers. The students also socialize not only within their own BSU, but with other local BSUs as well through themed parties and field trips.
“A big part of it is making sure they’re having fun and knowing other black students who are doing positive things,” said Asgill. “Usually on our high school campuses, there are very few black kids…this helps them find a like mind or just somebody that they can say, ‘You get it’ to.”
For Leake, to be able to speak to the students gathered at THS is incredibly meaningful, and he hopes to return in the near future.
“It means the world to me to come speak to these kids,” said Leake. “It’s gratifying to be able to leave someone with something that they can continue to use on their own, and then come back a couple years later and see the flowers begin to grow from that.”