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Building Bridges: Smyrna High student starts Black Student Union

Elise Sampson, a rising junior at Smyrna High School, founded that BSU this past year after beginning conversations with school administration as a freshman. Last summer, she put together a business plan. When school resumed, she presented it to the principal on the second day of classes. After that, they were up and running, she said.

SMYRNA — When Elise Sampson came into high school in 2018 with the goal of starting a Black Student Union, her motivation came from a place of love.

“I definitely saw a racial divide amongst peers that wouldn’t be present to most people’s eye,” she said. “I thought that a BSU could really clear up some of the miseducation and it could bring some empathy, understanding and love to the student population.”

Elise, a rising junior at Smyrna High School, founded that BSU this past year after beginning conversations with school administration as a freshman. Last summer, she put together a business plan. When school resumed, she presented it to the principal on the second day of classes. After that, they were up and running, she said.

Even though the union’s first year was cut a bit short when schools closed in March from the coronavirus pandemic, Elise has goals for growing the club and its mission when school reopens and in the years to come.

In February, the BSU hosted a Black History Month celebration with trivia, music and games.

“It was really fun,” she said. “In the future, I would like to see a lot more events like this. I want to see our club open things up to the community. I want to do some community service projects, have field trips. … I’m looking forward to trying to have some guest speakers this year, as well.”

She sees potential partnerships with other schools’ BSUs and wants to bring the organization to the middle and elementary levels.

“It all starts from within the household and just what you’re growing up around,” she said. “So, if you’re growing up never hearing these discussions and never seeing that this is the problem that we have in our world, this will never affect you. It will just be a thing that some people say, ‘It has nothing to do with me,’ when, in reality, this is not our fight alone. It’s something that we all have to do together.”

The group meets monthly — outside of planning for events — and holds open discussions on topics spanning from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other influential figures in the Black community to the criminal justice and judicial systems, systemic racism and police brutality. Elise noted that one conversation often leads into other discussions.

“I just think it’s crazy that some of the things that we talked about this year are coming into play now,” she said.

These conversations were all proactive and gave the students tools to discuss what is going on in the world around them when it happens, she said.

“Education starts within the home and within the community,” she said. “Some of these things that we see in social media, again, are things that we have already talked about in the club, and therefore, students know how to control and go forward with these conversations at home and amongst their friends or whatever group they are in at the time.”

Beyond discussions with peers in the club, Elise said one of the biggest reasons she wanted to start a BSU was because the curriculum was lacking in teaching Black history and culture.

“BSU is a place that students are able to gain this education and then maybe implement in our classes and bring up discussion in our classes for teachers, peers, administrators, to gain new knowledge,” she said.

Most of all, BSU comes from a place of “love and unity,” she said.

“I hope to see the day where everyone can love one another, accept one another,” she said. “That’s the ultimate goal, that we can all live in unity and harmony.”