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  • By Stacy Gittleman

Jaida Turner & Naomi Richardson

Two local teens have teamed the organizations they helped create to encourage peers to raise their voices for civil rights and urge educators to more deeply cover the long-arching effects of slavery and racism in American history classes. Naomi Richardson, 18, of Warren, attended Seaholm High school before transferring to Center Line High School for her senior year. While at Seaholm, the AP student also helped create Seaholm’s Black Student Union (BSU). With a minority student population at 12 percent, the BSU serves as a place where students of all races can socialize, discuss racism they may have faced in and out of school, learn about how to address racial unrest, and bring up any problems at school associated with racism. Jaida Turner, 16, of Birmingham, is a rising Seaholm senior who has been an active member of BSU throughout her high school years. She said BSU organizes assemblies for Black History Month and MLK Jr. Day and hosts other social meetings. “Our doors are open for anyone to learn with us about the Black community,” said Turner. “One of our past presidents was White. It is also a place where school administrators drop in to learn about bias or racism Black students may have experienced.” When the pandemic shut schools and reports of police brutality on Black people increased, Turner said the purpose of the BSU became even more vital. Students were drawn to the BSU’s monthly Zoom calls where they discussed their concerns about increased racial tensions and created a book club to discuss This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewel. Following the death of George Floyd, BSU students agreed to combine efforts with a new anti-racist group started by Richardson and others called Eyez to the Future (Instagram: @Eyez2thefuture) and organized a peaceful protest at Birmingham's Shain Park. “Right now, as young Black people, it seems like our future is blurry and we cannot see too far into it,” said Richardson. “Eyez gives Black boys and girls a platform to discuss how to keep each other safe and let our voices be heard.” The protest attracted a diverse group of 70 people, including some high school educators and administrators. It began with the singing of Lift Every Voice and included readings of original poetry from students. There was no police presence at the protest, said Turner. “People had a lot to get off their chest, and they did so through marching, saying slogans, and reciting poems and statements they wrote,” Turner said. Outside of her involvement with BSU, Turner has attended Minority Student Achievement Network conferences, learning about educational inequities and achievement gaps faced by minority students. As she heads into senior year, Turner may consider a career in engineering, but also is thinking about music and art. Richardson and Turner hope their activism impacts the way American history is taught at the high school level. “Schools need to do a better job of teaching history – and Black history is American history,” said Turner. “Lots of times, Black history is smooshed into one unit or you have to take an elective on the topic. It would be great if all students learned this information.” With her eyes on the future, Richardson will attend Wayne State University in the fall, where she will study African studies and film. Now that she is 18, Richardson is also excited to also express herself by voting for the first time in November. “Forming BSU and Eyez made me realize I can do even more to express myself (through anti-racism activism). The two groups have helped me find my voice.” Photo: Laurie Tennent

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