Students and members of the community gathered together to celebrate Black History Month in the community room on the night of Thursday, February 21st. Delightful aromas and chatter poured from the room as people of all ages and backgrounds came together to enjoy food and live performances organized by Black Student Association at East.
The month of February is reserved to recognize African Americans and honor their culture, and Black Student Association hosts a dinner every year during this time. Students planned the event with sponsor Dianna Palumbo to bring the community together and shed light on this important time.
During the first half of the event, catering was provided to attendees, and people were encouraged to sit down and enjoy the food. Every table was filled as the community room was packed with families, teachers, and students enjoyed the fifth Black History dinner held by BSA.
“I also feel like BSA gives us a voice and a place of representation, a place where we feel that we have power and a say in things that are going on, that we can change something, and make progress in society,” sophomore and first year BSA member Alex Prince said.
BSA officially established itself as a club at East in 2016, and every year the student-led organization has hosted the dinner in February.
This year in particular, student members of Black Student Association stepped up to plan and organize the dinner themselves. In past years, club sponsor Dianna Palumbo coordinated most of the events, but this year, she stepped back and left it up to the members.
“It took a little bit of work to get them to work independently, but they went out into the community and businesses and asked for donations and asked prices and did some of the leg work, which I don’t believe that they have really done in the past, and they have really relied on sponsors to guide them a little bit more so I tried to step back a little bit and I think that doing so, made the event more successful given that it was student directed,” Palumbo said.
Previous club sponsor and English teacher Rosalind White described the dinners with fondness. She explained how the annual BSA Black History Month dinner were run by herself with the help of PEGS (Parents for Education and Global Success), and attendance has grown throughout the course of the years.
“The PEGS group has done a great job in helping us and supporting us overtime,” White said.
PEGS is a parent group in the District that encourages diversity in teachers and equal opportunities within students to perform at the same levels. The organization works with the district to bridge the gap in test scores between minority and non-minority students as well as correct the issue at early stages.
The parent group spoke at the dinner and invited new parents to meet on March 14th at 7 p.m. to discuss the new school fees in the district as well as taxes and financial issues.
“Our dinner was only possible because of our PEGS donating and putting together our food and catering so they were able to also share their mission and recruit parents who didn’t know about PEGS beforehand,” Palumbo said.
In addition to the events put on by Black Student Association, the club is also active in their participation in the docu-series “America to Me.” The series documents a year in the life of students at Oak Park River Forest High School, and the goal of the documentary is to inspire action around the issues of race and equity that are highlighted in the series.
BSA members were able to view the show last year, and they are currently working on opening discussions here in District 308 about issues that reflect those of the documentary.
“I think once the district follows up with our work with the series America To Me, that will prompt more students to find a place in our club,” Palumbo said.
The abundance of food was also a focal point at the event. Multiple people helped to pass out food to guests and make conversation.
“For me [Black History Month] is a time of reflection and building up of our community. This is a stage for us to shine and show those African Americans who have had great success in the past and those who are currently doing great things and children now that this is a part of their legacy. During this month, this is when we say ‘encore,’” Etienne Harris said. Harris is an East parent and volunteer for the event.
Multiple students came forward to share poetry and music, and junior Vanesu Jakachira stepped up to the microphone to perform spoken word poetry about the hardships, ups, and downs in African American history.
“The baton has been passed from generation to generation, having the new pick up where the previous left off. Let’s take this journey together,” Jakachira said.
Jakachira supports the progressive side of Black History month, and while she explained how important the past is to African American culture, she emphasized the need to keep going and continue to achieve more.
“There’s still more things that need to be changed, there’s still more that we need to do, and this is a time to get to it,” Jakachira said.
BSA Co-President Rayna Harris described the importance of the Black Student Association at East, saying that the club is place where everyone is welcome, and there they are able to have meaningful discussions about the topics that are difficult to talk about in a traditional classroom setting.
“It is probably the one place that African American kids and minority kids can go to be a safe space for us to talk about things that may be uncomfortable to talk about in the classrooms. Really just representing black students in the school,” Harris said.
According to Vice President Nyla Rayford, the association tries to provide its members a sense of family.
“I would say that the BSA is there for us to … [provide] college advice. We go on fieldtrips. This year were trying to gain more members because we lose members every year, but that doesn’t stop us from including more people,” Rayford said.
Black History Month is an especially important time for the Black Student Association. BSA members take the time to recognize important figures in African American history and the contributions made to the world by African Americans.
“Black History Month for me has always been bittersweet. It has always been overlooked. It’s not just about slavery. It’s not just about that, even though that those are sacrifices that we have made,” junior Ariel Ringo said. “It’s about the African Americans who paved the way for everyone. Not just African Americans but everyone. It’s about celebrating a culture that entered America and thrived despite their circumstances.”