Celebrating community and making vital connections was the message that the Mercer Island High School Black Student Union (BSU) brought forth at itssecond annual dinner on Feb. 7 in the school commons.
With Pecos Pit BBQ, including brisket, chicken, mac and cheese and beans; pizza; and salad on tap, the BSU invited all students and families who identify as Black or African American to its sumptuous repast and social gathering.
Last year, the dinner was the brainchild of current BSU President and senior Tewodros (Teddy) Sanchez-Alemu and it so positively impacted those in attendance that they anticipated hosting a second event.
“Hopefully we can just continue this forever. It’s a beautiful thing to try and give everybody connection and a place to belong,” said BSU adviser Kelly John-Lewis, adding that the evening also included BSU speakers, open gym for elementary school students and more. In furthering connections, he said the BSU hopes to start a mentoring program with the younger students.
Sanchez-Alemu explained the importance of the dinner and BSU: “The current state of the world is very challenging, and a lot of kids who identify as African American in the school district can definitely have a sense of loneliness or a sense of confusion. Having this sort of community like we’re having tonight and building that trust within the Black community of Mercer Island is very important to navigate in the world.”
Along with the dinner, BSU will present the third annual Juneteenth Community Celebration at Mercerdale Park. John-Lewis said that BSU is a confidence-builder for the intelligent students who are school community leaders.
“I’m just glad to be having that connection with them and being part of it and seeing it,” he said.
BSU adviser Valerie Perine and John-Lewis said that visiting with others at the dinner will help the younger Black students as they transition from elementary school on through to high school.
“We thought opening this to all of our student body, district wide, would really allow the younger kids to see, ‘Hey, there are older kids, are other kids that look like me on the Island and in my school district,’” Perine said.
Perine added that the BSU advisers want to help the students along the way in their lives and continue the club’s legacy.
Mercer Island High School Principal Nick Wold said he is proud of the BSU and dinner organizers John-Lewis, Perine and Christine Kenyon.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to just build relationships. I think we’ve been talking about having all of our families feel like they belong, feeling like they can see themselves in our school, in our curriculum, in our classes,” he said.
Sophomore Omolara Olusanya noted that by joining the BSU, she’s discovered the importance of having and learning from each other.
“Before BSU, I had never been in a room full of Black people that I wasn’t related to or that I wasn’t family friends with, so BSU has really opened my eyes to different cultures. Some of us are straight immigrants from Africa, some of us are African American — just getting so many different views on the diversity within us,” she said.
Senior Jada Jorgensen said that when living in Utah she never saw kids who looked like her, and the BSU is a place where she’s formed friendships and feels comfortable expressing her voice. She feels connected and less alone, she added.
A message she would like to convey to younger kids who will be carrying on the BSU legacy is that they’ll need to “continue to speak your mind and continue to preach what you believe, because with that, the future will be hopefully a lot more easier and (they) wouldn’t have to deal with so much strife.”