The first little girl bounced into the brand new library at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park, excited to meet new faces in the room and, as she exclaimed, to have a slice of the pizza awaiting the scholars when they were all gathered.

“Who are you?!” she said to someone she didn’t know. It’s a simple and obvious question, but it’s also one that gets to the heart of part of the importance of that day’s gathering: the Black Family Union meeting.

Schools in the Hiawatha Academies network have been organizing black student unity groups, with the most recent happening at HLA-Morris Park. Special Education Teacher Margo Peterson and Paraprofessional Yolanda Pruitt are the leads of the community-building program, which was formed to create a space for students who self-identify as black to come to together and share their experiences, culture and interests with one another.

Yolanda said it’s also simply a great opportunity for students to have a safe space to meet and get to know one another.

During this second meeting of the group, they built off some great brainstorming ideas from their first meeting. Items discussed included:

  • Things they like: cultural music, making slime, art projects and Beyonce (of course!).
  • Things they want to talk about: Black Lives Matter, racism and black history.
  • Things they want to do together: go to a museum, watch videos, eat treats, make slime, and invite an activist to talk to them about standing up for their rights.

Another such group in the network, Hiawatha Collegiate High School’s Black Student Union group meets Mondays, and they plan, discuss, debate, socialize and organize activities. Their mission statement, as written by students, states: BSU is a club in which black students on the program board come together and plan events for the whole school, as well as for black members of the community specifically. We also learn about black leaders and have small discussions about certain things that people think or say about black people.

Nadia S. Nibbs, Dean of Instruction and Black Student Union Faculty Sponsor, said examples of the group’s discussions have included:

  • “What does it mean to be part of a Diaspora?”
  • “Can you be black and Latinx too?”
  • “The N-word: Let’s talk about it.”

BSU events and projects have included a trip to see “Black Panther” on opening night, a program from Black History Month, and a Black Diaspora Leaders Gallery.

Hiawatha College Prep-Kingfield also has a BSU group, held every other Tuesday. The purpose is to help students strive for academic excellence, promote positive images of people of African descent, and help students advocate for each other and become an integral part of the school community.

At the first meeting in October, co-leaders Sabrina Edwards, Dean of Students, Jessye Lewis, Physical Education Teacher, Daryn Woodson, Dean of Student Support Services, and Brandon Gill, Director of Operations, joined several staff and 24 students to discuss the vision of the group and proposed activities for the year.

The Black Family Union gathering at HLA-Morris Park includes pizza.

Books around the Morris Park library are culturally diverse.

The Morris Park scholars brainstormed ideas for Black History Month.

The HCP-Kingfield BSU group’s first meeting of the year.