You might call Girl Scout Makayla a trailblazer. To earn her Gold Award, she did something no student at her high school had ever done before: she founded the school’s first Black Student Union (BSU).
The BSU at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, was launched in June 2020. “The mission and purpose of this organization is to raise awareness about social issues that affect the Black community, encourage diversity and inclusion, promote a positive image of Black people, enhance understanding across the student body, and create a safe space for students to share their concerns,” says Makayla.
The idea for starting the union became Makayla’s project because of her own lived experience. During her time at Myers Park, a school in an affluent and predominately white area, Makayla took notice of the lack of cultural diversity in many of her classes, particularly in higher-level courses.
“A lack of cultural diversity leads to a lack of understanding, opportunities, and appreciation for each other’s differences, which is the root cause of racial incidents and segregation within a school,” she says.
While researching how school districts typically handle this issue, she found many choose to address it with redistricting tactics, busing students to schools further away from them, or by creating magnet schools. All of which are effective, but Makayla knew she wanted to make a more direct impact on her peers and her school.
“We were able to share ideas to improve the school’s cultural awareness, some of which were implemented into the school’s curriculum,” she says. “We created a safe space for students to express themselves, report incidents, and ensure that topics in Black culture were represented and uplifted throughout the school.”
Together, the BSU became a club at Myers Park High School that any student could join. They hosted events for all students to attend, such as a virtual college information session with a particular focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; a session to learn about the importance of voting featuring a Charlotte County commissioner; and a town hall that allowed students to share questions, concerns, and feedback directly with teachers and school administrators.
“We organized several events for Black History Month, including motivational speaking events and an interview featuring local Civil Rights icon, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins,” says Makayla. Dorothy was key to integrating Makayla’s school district in 1957. “It was astonishing to hear that some of the experiences she had when integrating our school district in the ‘50s were the same as what my peers and I currently experience. These shared experiences proved to me how necessary it was to address the issues related to education equity, diversity, and inclusion to improve education for all students.”
The scope of the BSU’s activities is impressive, to be sure. But Makayla wasn’t satisfied with only inviting her peers to benefit from the group. She and BSU members also developed and presented a series of events for their community to share little-known facts and stories about Black historical figures not typically covered in history textbooks.
Makayla’s project and new student union didn’t go unnoticed by peers at other high schools. When word spread about the group, students across the district began using Makayla’s format to start their own local chapters. To formalize BSU’s across the district, Makayla worked with staff and administrators to draft a set of bylaws, which were reviewed and approved by the school.
She hopes other students will not only feel they have a place to belong while in the BSU; she also hopes they will carry the skills they learn through their journey into college, adulthood, and beyond.
“The Black Student Union will send high school students out into the world with new skills that will help in environments with a lack of cultural diversity, and it will send students out with the knowledge of how to appreciate the differences of other cultures,” she says. “It will also allow Black students to feel empowered and confident with a better understanding of their culture and heritage. The BSU provides a great amount of support and help for high school students to prepare them for college and beyond.”
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