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Black Latinx Student Union (BLSU) Assembly As a Call To Be Woke

Suzanne Romero Dewey
In the school’s magazine, Signature, Fall 2019, last year’s BLSU co-head Aisha Fadé ‘19 states “Our mission is to not only raise awareness of social justice issues pertaining to these minority groups, but also to find ways to bring these discussions to Emma Willard. We work endlessly to speak up on what it means to highlight diversity, be inclusive, and how to be an effective ally.” She also gave the BLSU group a last rallying call, “Keep being the phenomenal woke people you are!”

Taking advantage of Black History Month (a tradition that started in the United States in 1926 as one week launched by historian Carter G. Woodson and evolved into a month-long recognition in 1970), Emma Willard’s BLSU provided a packed assembly program that included dance, skits, speeches, and a poignant video on what it’s like to be a student of color at Emma Willard School. 

When Black History was acknowledged as a month-long celebration in 1970, the notion was to provide time and space to recognize the frequently neglected and important accomplishments of Black Americans. That 50-year old tradition has included education and now offers the call of awareness. The call to be woke. 

The BLSU Assembly incorporated that call to be woke along with an appreciation of culture and race, while offering a program that included impactful elements for discussion about race, identity, and inclusion to the assembled school audience.

They started with a rousing step number and then staged a skit going to the heart of the matter with a conversation about why we celebrate Black History Month. Here are lines from their skit:

Why does Black History Month matter?
  • Well, for me Black History Month is not only a time to recognize the 400 years of oppression but to celebrate all the accomplishments of prominent Black icons, leaders, and activists despite the racism towards us.  Basically, it is a month to celebrate the long way we have come even though the odds are still against us.

Why should I care? 
  • Even though we have a small Black population at this school, it is still important to understand our lives and why this month matters so much to us. This month also affects you, too, because it’s a way to understand our history and how it is a significant part of U.S. history as its foundation. Over the course of U.S. history, the details have been white-washed, which means that we mostly have to learn about history through a White person's eyes. To get the full picture, we must learn from all kinds of perspectives. History is about everyone’s stories, not just one person’s!
Since this is supposed to be about equality, shouldn’t we celebrate a White History Month too? 
  • One could argue that we celebrate White History Month every month because the history we typically learn about is White history. Throughout history, we often learn more about the White perspective than any other. This can be challenging, especially when White people have been the oppressors. We also need to learn as much as possible from the people who historically have been oppressed, but also we need to hear more about the accomplishments and successes of Black people. Black History Month gives us an opportunity to do just that! This month is important for celebrating Black historical figures and role models both in America and around the world.
Oh, wow! Thank you so much for teaching me about the importance of Black History Month. Can I help you put up those posters?

The BLSU students also offered a perspective on allyship and a pathway to help become a more inclusive society with another skit:


#1: Hey guys, I’ve been hearing the word “ally” being thrown around a lot and I don’t really understand what it means. 

#2: Well, the first thing people often forget is that ally is a verb. This means that “ally” isn’t an identity you can adopt, but an ongoing process of listening, learning, and taking action.

#1: Wait, but what does it mean to practice allyship?  

#3: Well, allyship is when you speak up, not for, a marginalized group. You amplify their voices and stand up for them, even when you feel scared. 

#4: I practice allyship by acknowledging the privileges that I, as a White person, benefit from and by advocating for others to have those same privileges. 

#2: I joined BLSU because I wanted to become more informed on how I could contribute to fighting against all forms of racism and aggression towards Black and Latinx people.
#1: Okay, but why is it so important that people like me try to practice allyship?

#4: That’s a good question. It is not easy to commit to something that you cannot always relate to. But that’s the whole point of allyship— to be an ally, you have to understand that it is not about you. To me, being an ally to Black people is a way of showing empathy and seeking to understand struggles that aren’t mine. 

#3: In practicing allyship, it is important to recognize, you become a part of the problem when you stay silent -- Black people shouldn’t be burdened with dismantling an oppressive system created by White people. In my opinion, allyship can be used to bring light to infrequently discussed issues and to advocate for those issues in privileged places.   

#2: In striving to practice allyship, you will make mistakes, and it is important to acknowledge and apologize for your mistakes without trying to defend yourself or blaming the person whose feelings you have hurt, even if you didn’t intend it. Once you understand your mistakes, be committed to learning from them and doing 
better in the future.

There were other presentations that focused on education and awareness that we won’t be able to include in this post but the BLSU students are working hard to help our school community learn, stretch, grow, and become woke. It’s a process that requires practice.

One final poem, shared by a twelfth grade member of BLSU:

I had never heard this before:
My dad’s voice heavier than the whole world, heartbroken
My cousin died when she was seventeen
The police called it a drive by shooting
The newspapers said she had her life ahead of her
The politicians calling for reform at her funeral
We were left with the echoes of bullets ringing in our minds
Left with an unfinished story, left wondering
What being seventeen means to me?
What can I say that will make me stay?
Who will decide what type of flowers are placed at my funeral?

It’s the sounds--heard and unheard--that
Make up our symphony. The miracle that despite
Overcoming blood and chains
And homes and frames and seas
I see my dad:
Standing with his hat in hand, rubbing his eyes
Saying “How was your day?”

My family says I sing like my grandmother--
All honey and high notes
Etched into my soul because really it’s the only thing I know
They say my voice is that soft gospel and sweet blues
Sounds that’ll make your hips move back and forth
Now we’re dancing past regret
Dancing to forget things better left unsaid.

My cousin might show up later--
In stories meant only for family,
At her high school where she was
The star of the basketball team
In statistics used to get people angry, to make them mad
In my dreams whispering all the things
She wished she had time to say.

The things better left unsaid:
The things we’re not hearing,
Sand that slipped through a crack in an hourglass
Patchwork narratives sewn up as truth.
And a stranger, deciding that
Some things are better left with the dead,
Some things are better left unsaid.

They say I sing like my grandmother
All honey and high notes
Etched into my soul because really it’s the only thing I know
They say my voice is that soft gospel and sweet blues
Sounds that’ll make your hips move back and forth
Dancing to the rhythm of...

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