Speak Up

Students and staff at Burnsville High School last week came together for what attendees described as a powerful conversation race and equality.

The Dec. 13 event, entitled Speak Up, aimed to give students a time to express their feelings, challenge their beliefs and address the pain caused by racist acts at the school, such as racial slurs recently painted on the school’s spirit boulder.

The Black Student Union hosted the event with the help of facilitators, including attorney Paula Forbes. Principal Dave Helke said the facilitators provided guidance and worked to train other students and adults to support the conversations.

“So many of the students and staff — myself included — learned a lot more about our environment and the people around us,” Sundus Hussein, student representative on the district’s board, said during its Dec. 14 meeting. Board member Bob VandenBoom said he didn’t think he’d ever been more proud of the district.

The event included students, staff and designated table hosts sitting together in groups to discuss race, how people can feel more welcome and other topics, Hussein said. Students wrote their feelings and thoughts on paper spread over each table.

Afterwards, an open discussion took place in the gym. Students and staff were invited to share their feelings with the large crowd at a microphone.

“A lot of students and staff exhibited a lot of courage and spoke up,” Hussein said.

Helke called the day the most impactful in his education career.

“Conversations around race, racism, and equity can be very difficult and emotional,” Helke wrote in an email. “Through creating a space for these conversations to occur, individuals are able to share experiences, sometimes very personal.

“It is important for us to hear these stories, to hear firsthand the experiences of our students in our schools to guide our work together, students, staff, and families,” Helke continued. “It was authentic and real.”

Gideon Pond Elementary Principal Chris Bellmont and school board member Abigail Alt were among many other district staff members to share support for the event on social media.

“Please know the @gideon_pond community stands with & looks up to @BurnsvilleHS today and all days as we continue to build an Inclusive community where All will succeed,” Bellmont tweeted.

Alt thanked BHS and the Black Student Union for starting courageous conversations.

The day’s events concluded in sixth-hour classes, where members of the Black Student Union, teachers, students and volunteers spoke about inclusiveness and how to respond to racist and discriminatory acts in our school, Hussein said.

“The theme was to speak up, and I think that Burnsville did an amazing job of doing that because we heard so many different perspectives,” she said.

According to Helke, a group of students and staff will work alongside the event’s facilitators next month to analyze the data captured during the event. This work will include going through ideas, comments and personal stories to identify themes and create action steps.

He said the goal is to ensure the school community is a welcoming, inclusive environment in which each student feels safe, respected and valued.

“I am looking forward to our continued work, as the Speak Up event was a beginning,” Helke wrote.

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