A call for better representation

The lack of promotion of Black History Month at BVH

Black History Month takes place the entirety of Feb. and is defined by The White House as being a celebration of the legacies and achievements of past generations of black Americans. The Black Student Union (BSU) is a club at Bonita Vista High (BVH) that has made efforts to celebrate and promote the month to students. However, reflecting on the month has led members of the club to question if Black History Month and BSU are fairly promoted to students at BVH.

The purpose of BSU is to offer students, especially black students, an opportunity to learn more about black culture and form a community of students with similar experiences. BSU advisor, AP United States History and Ethnic Studies teacher Don Dumas explains the significance BSU holds at BVH since it provides a community for students who feel disparaged.

“It’s a space where kids can talk about issues that are important to them, unwind, and learn about black history and culture,” Dumas said. “BSU creates a space for [both] black students and other students who feel marginalized to come in, find solidarity and help learn the emotional maturity that’s required to navigate a frequently hostile world.”

There are many black students at BVH who feel marginalized and unwelcome. Dumas explains that racism in the form of aggression towards black students is present at BVH every day.

“The entire society can be hostile to black students and other people of color. We would be naive to think that somehow the district or BVH is immune to such hostilities and microaggressions that happen. They have been here every day,” Dumas said.

In addition to facing these hostilities, Dumas shares that black students’ feelings and experiences are often dismissed when brought up. Part of what BSU does is combat this by offering students a place to share their experiences without being questioned.

“One of the things that students get in the BSU that they have difficulty getting elsewhere is simply having other people listen to you,” Dumas said. “What often happens is a person who feels marginalized will express their frustration but be cross-examined as if it were not real. But at BSU you find empathy. And that’s a very important part of what the purpose of the club is.”

Senior and BSU president Benitel Kabongo shares that the feeling of being unwelcomed as a black student at BVH comes largely from BSU being unsupported and mocked by other students. According to Kabongo, not being taken seriously is one of the biggest challenges BSU has faced.

“I think our number one issue on campus is people mocking the group, and thinking this is some sort of joke. We see it all the time, people making fun of our club. People take us as a joke. While we don’t let that bother us, it is annoying and dehumanizing,” Kabongo said.

Negative attitude from other students is what largely influenced BSU’s decision process when planning the club’s Black History Month spirit week. The spirit week prompted students to dress up as different themes each day of the week to honor black culture. The event was not widely publicized due to the club’s lack of support from BVH students.

“We knew that it wasn’t going to get publicized and people were probably not going to take it seriously,” Kabongo said. “And that’s something that we thought of when we decided to keep it within our own community because why go through the trouble of publicizing it when people are just going to make jokes about it and not take it seriously when we take it very seriously.”

We need each other. We’re all connected. We’re all related. I don’t know why anyone would want to deny themselves the full human experience by filling that gap with insensitivity, mockery, and hatred. I hope that they will eventually learn how to do better.

— Dom Dumas

Part of what makes BSU feel unsupported is the lack of support from the BVH Associated Student Body (ASB). According to Kabongo, this is not the first year BSU has felt unsupported by the ASB, which is why the club did not expect the ASB to promote the Black History Month spirit week.

“We didn’t really expect the ASB to publicize it [the spirit week]. We need to collaborate more and have their support, but we haven’t really seen that happen this year or in previous years,” Kabongo said. “We have not approached them and they have not approached us with the simple fact that we don’t feel like they’ll do enough to support us. Going forward, unless something does change, that’s just going to be how things continue.”

Senior and BSU secretary Mikial Hodges believes that BSU can gain more support by being promoted through clubs at school like ASB and BVTV. For example, Hodges believes that promotion through social media can be especially helpful in promoting BSU and its events.

“I think when an event pops up and our Instagram page promotes it, other students like ASB can repost it and spread it through there. We can have more time to shine by being part of things like BVTV. There are ways to have our voice heard,” Hodges said.

While students like Kabongo feel frustrated by ASB’s distance from BSU, Dumas believes that the student’s feelings come from an overall feeling of underrepresentation at BVH. Dumas explains that while students’ feelings are valid, it is BSU’s responsibility to promote and grow the club.

“I think the students’ frustration is along the lines of the wider feeling of being unsupported. It’s just more like, here we are in a school that has such small numbers of black students,” Dumas said. “We don’t feel that we have enough or that we’ve done enough to make our club and all our efforts visible. But I’m not going to put that on the ASB. I don’t think it’s their responsibility, I think it’s ours.”

However, Dumas also believes that when it comes to Black History Month, the school has a responsibility to promote black history to students. Dumas calls for better representation of Black History Month in the school curriculum and announcements but has yet to see the administration take those steps.

“Encouragement and ideas from administration to teachers on how to infuse black history into the curriculum have never come. And so I think in that regard, we could do more, and that’s from the school’s side, not anything to do with the BSU,” Dumas said. “I think we could do a lot more to recognize the importance of and promote black history during Black History Month.” 

Aggression and hostility towards black students remains persistent at BVH. Dumas shares that people’s prejudice harms both others and themselves. Dumas encourages people participating in discrimination towards black students to look past their prejudice and do better.

“When you make any sort of mockery of a person’s experiences it really is a reflection of your own intellectual immaturity. And it does more harm to you than you realize,” Dumas said. “We need each other. We’re all connected. We’re all related. I don’t know why anyone would want to deny themselves the full human experience by filling that gap with insensitivity, mockery, and hatred. I hope that they will eventually learn how to do better.”