MHS Clubs: The BIPOC Student Coalition

by Caitlin Moriarty

Following the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrations in Methuen this past summer, the BIPOC Student Coalition was added to the list of MHS’ after school activities. BIPOC, an acronym for Black Indigenous People Of Color, is an umbrella term for people of a marginalized race or ethnicity.

Each Tuesday at 2:15, the student-run club alternates between Socratic seminar-style educational sessions, and a student support group.

Two founders and co-executive officers, seniors Amania Galloway and Karla Cabrera, are excited to see how their work can create positive change in the community. Galloway said that her inspiration started when the Black Lives Matter movement saw a lot of growth. “At the peak, there were a lot of tensions. It felt like people who supported the BLM movement were in the minority, and that we didn’t know how to take action.”

Amania posted on her Instagram story, asking her peers about creating a space where students at MHS could work towards educating the student body on anti-racism. A large majority of responses were in favor of the idea. As conversations about systemic racism in the school system continued, Galloway reached out to former Associate Principal, Mr. Moody. “He was a Black administrator who I thought might understand better. We talked about how Black affinity groups helped the schools he taught at, and that his own children attended. We wanted to make a space for people to learn and share experiences they faced in Methuen.”

Together, Amania and Karla dedicated themselves to creating a welcoming space for students of color at MHS. “We had phone calls in May with Mr. Moody. We would all talk about being Black for three hours, making connections between systemic racism we had witnessed. We had in-person meetings with Mr. Moody, Ms. Javier, and Mr. Barden over the summer about what needed to change at MHS. We talked about the durag rule, the policy about bandanas, and how enforcing those was akin to racial profiling,” Karla said.

At first, Mr. Moody was a temporary advisor to the club, along with Ms. Javier. However, they had to find replacement advisors before Mr. Moody accepted another job in the Andover Public Schools system, and before Ms. Javier became interim Associate Principal. “Ms. Javier had talked to Mrs. Dumont about anti-racism over the summer. They had sat in on a seminar about anti-racism in the classroom. It was something they were both passionate about,” so Mrs. Dumont became the first advisor at Ms. Javier’s suggestion.

Karla knew Mrs. Grant personally, and felt that her inclusive lessons created a safe and educational space for young women of color. “We felt comfortable in her class—she made an effort to make us feel comfortable.” “We decided we wanted the club to have a support group aspect for kids of color, and an education aspect overall,” Karla explained.

As one of three co-executive officers, it meant a lot of work. “We come up with ideas that we want to talk about, and do the majority of the research that goes into lesson planning. We design the slides. We read the slides. We draft an agenda. It’s very student driven. We work closely about planning what we should talk about. We want to talk about white fragility, white saviorism, and allyship. Mrs. Dumont and Mrs. Grant make suggestions, but we decide what goes into the educational days.” All three student officers review discussion protocols and run the support group meetings while the advisors sit in.

Running a club remotely isn’t exactly what Amania, Karla, and their advisors had been planning. “It isn’t as intimate, and people are less willing to share than they likely would be in person,” Amania pointed out, “All of the ideas we had for fundraising, or protests, or guest speakers are at a stand-still. Our interesting events are kind of on hold.”

“To future BIPoC leaders: when things go back to normal, I would want to see a lot of involvement with the rest of the student body. Guest speakers, or a field trip to the museum of African American history in Boston. Fundraisers, petitions, to make MHS and our community more aware and safer and equitable for everyone. I want to see the BIPoC Student Coalition be more engaged with the community. I want to see posters in the schools, telling students of color that the way they feel is normal,” Karla added.

Karla says her main goal was to bring a sense of community to kids of color at MHS. “Being a student of color in honors and AP classes, you feel alone. It’s a very lonely, difficult, time and process. I want students of color to know they aren’t alone. There are more kids like them. Mr. Moody looked at the numbers. 48% of MHS’ student body is students of color. When I heard that, my jaw dropped. You don’t see that. I feel like I’m the only Black person in all my classes.”

Karla believes that a sense of community empowers marginalized students to stand up against prejudice. “It’s hard to stand up for yourself and say ‘that was racist,’ or ‘I’m being racially profiled.’ That support system, that community component, is the most important thing to me and the aspect I’m most proud of.”

So far, feedback from students who attend is overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve received messages thanking us for creating this space, saying it was something we really needed. After the support group, someone messaged us saying it felt good to have that outlet, because it felt like no one else was listening,” Amania explained. “It’s a relief, because it’s overwhelming and lonely being a person of color and not knowing how to face racism. People want to learn about their history. Certain historical events we want to focus on are the Tulsa race massacre, Ax Handle Saturday, and all the obscure events that we don’t talk about… and from the perspective of people of color,” Karla added.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to combat racism in our community, or you’re searching for a community of people who share your experiences, Karla says, “Come to BIPOC meetings every other Tuesday! Everyone is welcome.”

If you’re interested in independent study, Karla and Amania recommend the following resources: Books such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, and Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson. Films such as The 13th, Blackkklansman, I Am Not Your Negro, and When They See Us. Online resources such as the websites for the ACLU, the NAACP, Color of Change, and the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre; the Black Lives Matter Carrd; instagram accounts @soyouwanttotalkabout and @diversifyournarrative; and as Karla put it, “any article written by a person of color—especially a woman of color— from a credible newspaper organization.”

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