Black Student Union

Photo Caption: Black Student Union members pose outside the Portland Art Museum. The field trip to see the Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal... exhibit was one of the club’s most recent events. Photo by: Julie Palmer

Clubs are a great way to get involved at Franklin. The approximately sixty clubs at Franklin have focuses that range from personal interests to affinity groups to academic success. Arguably one of the most active and impactful clubs at Franklin is the Black Student Union (BSU). BSU meets every Thursday at lunch in room M-210, with an average of twenty to twenty five students attending. For students who are interested in taking a leadership role in BSU, there are meetings every Tuesday at lunch in M-137, where students can make decisions about events, coordinate outreach, and plan to lead discussions that happen in the larger meetings. Jonathan Dixon (12) is one of the students who comes to the Tuesday planning meetings regularly. He explains that the main goal of BSU at Franklin is “to paint a positive light on African Americans and other people of color within the school. When you have a club like BSU it not only gets you involved into more things that could be your positive outlet, but it lets you know that you’re not alone and you have others here to help.” He continues by speaking about the importance of having a BSU in school, saying, “Even when another person of color doesn’t think not seeing someone that looks like them is not impacting them, it most certainly is. In some spaces you feel like you can’t speak because you feel your voice is not valid due to the people you are surrounded by. Whether that be in the classroom, around your friends or in sports, that idea is not beneficial for the progression of anyone. Having BSU at Franklin, even if you are not in attendance every meeting, is our way of not only dealing with that but making sure our voice is heard.”

Outside of their biweekly lunch meetings, BSU hosts several events and field trips around the community. Julie Palmer, the BSU advisor along with Desmond Spann, has been working to expand BSU since her arrival at Franklin three years ago. “One of the things I noticed my first year here was nothing happened during Black History Month. It really hurt my heart for students and staff here that nothing was said, nothing was done. It felt like a real void for Black people. So I started talking to students and staff about it and they definitely showed a desire to do something. I really just wanted to help hold the space for students to take up some space at Franklin too. It’s ok to take up some space in a positive way and share who we are with the community,” she explains.

Last year, BSU hosted several events during Black History Month including “Love Affair With Black Hair,” which occurred on Valentines Day. During tutorial, students could get their hair braided or shaved into styles that are common in Black culture. There were also speakers and a slideshow that provided information about the history of Black hair. According to Ms. Palmer, the event is one of the club’s favorites, “I think it just ignited something in people that made them want to do even more,” Palmer said. She is planning to do it again this year. The BSU also hosted a History of Hip Hop tutorial lesson and several music sessions themed around celebrating Black women and feeling good about your appearance. “There’s this weird relationship in our society when on the one hand, people appropriate things from our look, however it’s also used against us,” Ms. Palmer explains. “We just really wanted to try to celebrate people so we found some songs that supported that.”

BSU also takes part in local events including a screening of the movie The Hate U Give followed by small discussions with police officers about each other’s experiences. They also went to Black Athlete Day at Oregon State University. Students got the chance to hear from a panel of Black athletes about their experiences and spoke with them individually afterwards. More recently, Ms. Palmer took a large group of students to the Portland Art Museum to see the Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal... exhibit, which addresses the exploitation of Black people through photography, sculpture, and videography. Ms. Palmer describes the impact of the field trip by saying, “They were so engaged and blown away by this man’s creativity, the depth to which every piece has this layered meaning about the commodification of Black bodies in our country. It was a really powerful experience and I think everyone appreciated it.”

With their lunch meetings and events, Black Student Union aims to connect Black and mixed race identifying students at Franklin, to expand their experiences with their own race and culture, and to develop a positive racialized identity. Jazmine Carter (11), who is one of the student chairs, describes BSU as a safe place and says, “I’ve made so many new friends that I now can actually call my family. It’s made me feel like I actually exist at the school and that there are other people like me that go through the same struggles I do. Not just like me but that look like me, because there isn’t a lot of people that do at the school.” She encourages anyone who’s interested in joining to come to a meeting and assures that it is a place of love and support.

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