Black Student Union aims to ensure students have sense of belonging at high school in Cheviot Hills

Phillip Palmer Image
Friday, October 7, 2022
BSU aims to ensure students have a sense of belonging in Cheviot Hills
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BSU aims to ensure students have a sense of belonging in Cheviot Hills

CHEVIOT HILLS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Young people who don't have a sense of belonging at school often struggle to give education their full attention.

Those negative feelings can lead to truancy or other ways of avoiding the uncomfortable environment.

Making sure young black students feel as if they belong is the focus of the Black Student Union at Alexander Hamilton High School in Cheviot Hills, led by Kenneth Turner.

"There are messages that say that you're not very valued," Turner said. "And so you want to find places where you do feel valued, and school should be one of those places."

Turner has served for 13 years as advisor to the BSU at Hamilton, a school with a diverse student body of 2,300 students, 400 of whom are active members of the BSU.

Senior Kamal Chatman has been in the BSU since he was a freshman.

"I truly believe that the energy you surround yourself around defines you at some point," he said. "And the energy I surround myself around at BSU is pure, great energy and everybody has good energy. So I believe that that had a good impact on me and that it really made me grow far -- mentally and political education, my own history, my own future."

Hundreds of students in the BSU at Hamilton meet during lunch on campus almost every Wednesday and frequently hear about college opportunities -- how to get there and how to pay for it. But they also get together with teachers and each other off-campus, like a recent gathering at Kenneth Hahn Park, where they simply spend time with each other, creating a community of excellence.

"We are given a safe place where we can express our feelings about different things going on in our school," said junior Siyana Da'Briel. "It's given us resources. We've got our BSU scholarship, which helps our BSU students make sure they are going to college or just going down whatever path that they want to go down."

The success of the BSU is easy to see at Hamilton, with one of the largest groups in the country, but it could be repeated at any high school. In fact, Turner has written two books on the subject.

"I think the key is the stability and the commitment of the adult in charge," explained Turner. "I try to encourage people, even in this book, if it's too much for one person, try to have a team of advisors so that maybe you divide up these duties and responsibilities."

The goal of the United Black Student Unions of California is to create a BSU at every high school in the state. The benefits of that could change generations for the better.

"I wish everybody had that," said Chatman. "To have a safe spot, a community where people have the same mindset as you. For people who don't have that, I wish you'd find it, I wish you had it, and if you can't find it, make it."

Turner added: "I'm trying to make sure that students know, yes, while you're in junior high school, high school, you can start to dream about college. Because it's right there, it's waiting for you. It's always been there. It's right there. Now, what are you gonna do?"