Led by four student heads‒Kendall P. ’24, Sunny O. ‘24, Shyne C. ‘23 and Temi D. ‘24‒the GFS Black Student Alliance (BSA) is dedicated to creating space for Black students and their allies to connect and learn.
“At BSA, we explore a plethora of topics; we have authentic conversations, learn about Black history and culture and welcome our entire community to join us in learning,” said Sunny. “It’s a comfortable environment that relieves stress and invites others to come and expand their knowledge no matter what background they come from."
Sitting down for an in-person chat earlier this month with Kendall, Sunny, Shyne and Temi, they were enthusiastic to share their journey of getting involved with BSA.
Conversations and Community
For Shyne, interest in BSA started when she was a younger student and grew as she entered the Upper School. She had seen older peers get involved with BSA, and she was curious to see what it was all about. Now, she takes her responsibility of welcoming new freshmen seriously, recognizing it was not long ago that she was in their shoes. “I really like facilitating conversations, creating safe spaces and helping the freshmen feel included,” she said.
Temi appreciated the faculty mentorship and connection that BSA provided, a welcome change of pace coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said, “Being Black is such a part of everyday life that differentiates a lot of the experiences you have … so having an alliance where people think similarly to you and understand the nuances of being Black is so special.”
Sunny and Kendall both received an email about BSA going into their freshman year of Upper School. Interested, they attended their first meeting and fell in love with the discussions and community that BSA provides.
Black Excellence: Celebrating Black History Month
The group’s most recent initiative is celebrating the Harlem Renaissance in honor of Black History Month. Each year, BSA heads take inspiration from the national theme and discuss how they would like to incorporate that theme into presentations, events and discussions on campus.
“This year’s national theme is resistance,” said Shyne. “We looked at that and really wanted to approach it from a positive place. We thought, ‘You can resist the gentrification of your culture and flourish through arts and music, through Black excellence as a whole.’ The Harlem Renaissance is the perfect example of how you can resist in a positive way.”
Their goal, said Temi, was to do something that inspired joy and celebration, curiosity and conversation. “We want Black joy to be at the center of this month. We, as Black people, endured a lot of suffering in our history, but we rose up and found joy in our situation. We built and created beautiful things out of the suffering we were experiencing.”
Sunny agreed and elaborated on their decision to focus on art: “Using art as a medium to convey a message helps people connect. People from all walks of life can understand art, and in turn, have a better understanding of Black culture.”
The BSA heads hope that the community sees parallels between elements of today’s culture and the art created throughout the Harlem Renaissance.
Temi shared, “Art created during the Harlem Renaissance inspired a lot of the pop music today that’s produced by all races, so showing that this music came from Black culture shows how the Harlem Renaissance affects us all now. We are all connected in some way.”
Already this month, BSA has given presentations, provided input on library displays and displayed pieces of art created by BSA members in the front of Garland Theater. Performances and more presentations are still to come, along with a fundraiser bake sale in partnership with Midnight Confections Cupcakery, a black- and woman-owned business in Baltimore.
In thinking about the impact they would like to leave behind on the Garrison Forest community after graduation and how they would like to see BSA continue to evolve, curiosity and inclusion are at the forefront.
“I want everyone to feel welcome, not just Black people, to learn about Black culture,” said Shyne.
Kendall further emphasized, “We really want to create a space for people to ask questions without fear of feeling like they’re intruding; questions are how learning begins.”
Sunny echoed their sentiments, “This extends far beyond BSA, but I would encourage everyone to join at least one identity-based club because it allows you to learn about a culture that may be different than your own. That experience allows you to put yourself in other people’s shoes and make you more open to growth.”
Kendall shared her gratitude for having a place where she can be heard and connect with other students, “What I appreciate about Garrison so much is that I’ve always felt like I had a voice here. I can think of at least three teachers I would feel comfortable speaking up to. I know that’s not something every school has and I really appreciate that. Especially with BSA, we have a space to talk to other students, to connect.”