Virginia students have created the first Black Student Union in their high school’s 100-year history, The Winchester Star reports.
Eunice Mejiadeu is a student at John Handley High School in Winchester, VA, but she hasn’t always felt like she belonged. The school’s student body is 43% Caucasian and 35.3% Hispanic, with just 6.7% of students identifying as Black.
In 2019, Handley’s dropout rate was 7.1%, with chronic absenteeism of 24%. The Black students accounted for 35% of that absenteeism, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Even without knowing the numbers, Mejiadeu knew something was off, and she had other Black friends who felt the same way. From being the only Black students in advanced courses to not feeling a sense of community, the group knew they needed to come together to change something at Handley quickly.
“When we look at Handley, there’s not really this; I guess a safe place to come together. There’s a lot of self-isolation,” Mejiadeu said. “We just got kind of tired of just not feeling like we mattered, and I don’t think that was the intention Handley wanted to bring, and I feel like it just gradually happened over time.”
Mejiadeu decided to create the first Black Student Union at Handley. The BSU’s mission is helping students “strive for academic excellence, promote positive images of Black Americans, and help students become an integral part of the school community.”
While the organization is open to students of all races, she wanted to emphasize the Black students. It aims to promote inclusivity, get more students of color into advanced courses, decrease the dropout and absentee rate, and increase graduates’ likelihood of pursuing higher education.
Winchester Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum presented the results of a Handley students survey to the school board in May, which shows that only 31% of students felt a sense of belonging and 44% of students saying they have been teased because of their race or ethnicity.
This is nothing new at the school; in the late 1980s, a group called Minorities Concerns was created to help address similar issues. Tom Dixon, former Handley teacher and basketball coach, said he was involved with the ’80s group, and while there was strong support for a while, after a decade, the interest faded, and the school reverted to its old ways.
Dixon said the new Black Student Union is “a chance to make progress.” Van Heukelum agreed, saying, “We are committed to amplifying and empowering the voice of our students while acknowledging and celebrating our areas of difference. The Black Student Union at John Handley High School is another example of how we are systematically supporting all of our students so they can thrive and develop positive self-efficacy through empowerment.”
In addition to the work they’ll be doing to create a community within the school, Mejiadeu also has plans to organize volunteer efforts with local nonprofits and create scholarships for students of color. The 17-year-old says she wants the Black Student Union to be “space where we can both promote education and also promote unity at Handley.”
Congratulations, Eunice and all of the Handley Black Student Union members!
Handley High School Black Student Union: From left are Brittnay Turner, Ashlea McConnell, Sanae Stokes, Kiyah Sloane, Zadriana Johnson, Eunice Mejiadeu, and Brittiana Rush.
Photo Courtesy of Eunice Mejiadeu