Laurinne Eugenio

Accelerated Biology and IB ESS teacher Jennifer Ekstein shares her screen, showing a video of African-American Environmentalist Leah Thomas to her fourth period class.

Black history month matters

March 24, 2021

Every February, Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month, is celebrated annually to pay tribute to the struggles and achievements of African-Americans, as well as recognize the vital role they play in United States history. This year, some Bonita Vista High (BVH) staff, students and clubs have made an effort to raise awareness about Black History Month by shining a light on African-American figures and experiences to the rest of the BVH community. 

“Black History Month for me means celebration, education, honor and respect for our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and queer ancestors,” Black Student Union (BSU) Co-president and senior Luke Svehaug said. (Svehaug uses she/her/they/them pronouns). “I believe we celebrate our blackness every day but this month is a useful time to spread awareness and share the stories of impactful black individuals; past and present.”

She explains that BVH BSU’s main purpose is to provide a safe, interactive space for not only Black students but also for all students from different backgrounds. Team members within BSU discuss and raise awareness about current events pertaining to black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities.

We have to acknowledge our past and we have to fix it.”

— Jennifer Ekstein

“As a club, we strive to positively communicate, share personal anecdotes and spread awareness of injustices and inequality in race, gender [and] etc. in the minority community,” Svehaug said. “We created and implemented this club so students can feel heard and safe in this day and age of distress.”

According to Svehaug, BSU has been doing “Trailblazer Thursdays” since the beginning of the semester. BSU also started doing a “docuseries,” a new segment dedicated to celebrating Black History Month. In these activities, club members highlight prominent or not well-known individuals and discuss information that is significant to Black history or to the Black community, which are then posted in their Instagram account. 

“You don’t have to be Black to be [a part of] a BSU; a lot of people have that misunderstanding,” BSU Secretary and senior Alicia Verdugo said. “It’s important to know about [Black history], and keep them in mind in our day-to-day lives because there’s so much we have to be grateful for.”

Other than BVH students, some teachers are also celebrating Black History Month inside their classrooms. Accelerated Biology and International Baccalaureate Environmental Systems and Societies teacher Jennifer Ekstein makes an effort to educate her students about the contributions of African-Americans from an environmental standpoint. She plays a short video at the beginning of each class about certain African-Americans who have inspired and contributed to the environmental justice movement.

“I think it’s essential, especially for my very diverse students that they understand, [be] proud of their heritage and that they have role models,” Ekstein said. “Especially in light of what’s happened in the last year, I feel it’s very important to really show all of these amazing African-American contributions.”

Ekstein is driven to educate her students about the contributions to environmental justice because she has diverse students, coming from different backgrounds. She describes that recognizing the work of BIPOC communities results in her students understanding that they have role models as well as feeling represented and empowered.  

“I think it’s important to look in the mirror and see somebody who’s exactly like you and that has not historically been the case,” Ekstein said. “I think just the idea of students being empowered is very motivating and lifting.”

On a personal level, Svehaug mentions that she tries to become more aware of historical figures and events in an effort to celebrate Black History Month. Moreover, Svehaug stresses the importance of supporting not only Black communities but also other underrepresented groups. 

“BVH students and staff can just learn more about our history. This is the perfect time to support, black and other underrepresented groups,” Svehaug said. “I suggest reading books, sharing Instagram posts highlighting historical black figures or black social justice leaders positively impacting the community.”

Like Svehaug, Verdugo is also educating herself on Black figures and recognizing her privileges– in celebration of Black History Month. Verdugo states that celebrating Black history goes beyond the month of February. She believes that remembering and recognizing Black history should happen “every day of the year.”

“Black History happens throughout 365 days a year; all the time. It takes nothing out of your day to do something that honors black people and pays [tribute to them],” Verdugo said. “[Celebrating Black History Month] makes you recognize that [we don’t live in] a white world.” 

Ultimately, commemorating Black History Month is crucial because it teaches people valuable lessons necessary to tackling the future, according to Ekstein. Sveuhaug furthers that celebrating Black History month helps her and others to “understand the truth, combat ignorance and discrimination.”

“I think educating yourself is very important to understanding the past so that we don’t make these mistakes in the future. Within the last year, we [have hit the] breaking point, [for instance, the event concerning] George Floyd– this is not okay and we need to keep this dialogue going; we can’t let it die out,” Ekstein said. “We have to acknowledge [that] we have to change things. We have to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.”

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