By Wesley Dismuke
Contributing Writer, ’17, Political Science
During a September Black Student Union meeting, a film was shown which sparked a lively and powerful discussion about several topics related to African American culture and experiences. During our discussion, we learned that one of our new freshmen members was of Jamaican descent and could speak fluent Creole. Reflecting on this newfound diversity in our group, senior member Shelby Stephen posted to Facebook, “I seriously just made a friend who could possibly teach me Creole in a French Dialect. If you didn’t know, I’m half Haitian and know zero. Just little things like that make me so happy to have BSU.” After reading Shelby’s post, I promptly had an “aha moment:” I realized the sense of unity and togetherness that BSU had helped to create amongst its members. I also realized how far we have come as an organization in such a short time.
Realizing that there were few opportunities for Black students to explore their own culture and address issues of diversity and acceptance, I wanted to create an organization in which students felt comfortable addressing topics they felt passionate about; I also wanted to create a group centered on leadership and service. On Sunday, March 15, 2015, ten students gathered to discuss the possibility of starting such an organization and by Wednesday, March 18, we had our first meeting with about twenty other interested students. We were all shocked at how much interest our organization had gained in a matter of days. After observing the quick growth of our new organization, we understood how important our group was to the campus, as echoed by Junior Asti White, “The Black Student Union being present here at LaGrange College has allowed for both an inward and outward growth in our understanding of the world around us. It provides a sound board for individuals who want to not only speak and listen, but it also provides a safe and harmonious place to discern cultural differences.“
BSU has grown into an organization with a mission to create cultural awareness and spark social consciousness. We welcome all students and faculty to join us to promote unity and understanding, and to learn about issues that not only speak to Blacks, but to all of us as individuals. In our eight months of existence, we have engaged our campus by hosting public forums, covering topics related to identity, racism, voting, colorism, multiculturalism, diversity, stereotypes, gender, and sexuality.
Senior Dru Gibbs appreciates how BSU has initiated conversations about difficult topics and believes, “No one should be labeled by their appearance, black or otherwise. I think the BSU helps bring these and other issues like it to light for positive productive conversations to take place where they normally would not.”
BSU has also hosted guest speakers including community organizer Ameia Cotton, who spoke about her anti-gang violence initiatives and LaGrange alum Michael Thomas (’05), who lectured about financial planning.
Perhaps the most significant part of the BSU experience has been our community service. We have assisted with West Georgia Star’s afterschool enrichment program, which allows us to work directly with youth at the LaGrange Housing Authority. My own personal experience working with the youth has been amazing. I have learned so much from the kids and to see their faces light up when I enter the room is an awesome feeling. It takes me back to my childhood and the influence of special people in my life. Other notable activities include the Living in Peace unity initiatives and the Hillside Fall Festival.
My involvement with BSU has led to many “aha moments” similar to the one I had after reading Shelby’s Facebook post. Whenever I observe students passionately expressing their feelings during our forums, I am reminded of how unique BSU is to this campus. Whenever we take time from our busy schedules to engage in community service, I am always fulfilled by our decision to contribute to the progress of our community. BSU has empowered its members by giving them a voice and also an avenue to serve and our efforts should serve as a reminder that we share a common thread with all students. That thread is inclusion, acceptance, equality, and mutual respect.
Sophomore Sheree Walker, a member of BSU, states, “To me, BSU means acceptance. It is the one place on campus where I feel completely accepted. BSU is my college family. It is where I can sit down and be myself without judgment.”
Sophomore Toni Ball’s participation in BSU has provided her the opportunity to learn about people from a different culture. “BSU gives me the chance to learn about the experiences of people of color. I enjoy the opportunity to stand for what is right.”
The testimonies of Shelby, Asti, Dru, Sheree, and Toni provide insight into what BSU has meant to its members. Some find an inclusive family that is open to everyone, others enjoy the opportunity to think deeper about Black culture, while many appreciate the opportunity to learn about the experiences of their fellow students.
Ultimately the goal for BSU is to continue to be a model student organization. We want to continue to find creative ways to trigger cultural awareness and expand our efforts by collaborating with other institutions on campus like the Student Government Association, Spiritual Life, Gay-Straight Alliance, International groups, and our Greek organizations. We also want to continue to expand our efforts beyond campus and into the community. BSU has the potential to inspire students to make a difference to the people around them. We want to be the driving force that promotes unity, service and awareness at LaGrange College. BSU matters.