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Perspective | Student voices supporting Black Lives Matter take on a renewed urgency. We should all listen.

Black Lives Matter. During this time, student voices matter tremendously as they watch and try to understand the appalling deaths of Black men and women. They are trying to understand their place in history and forming their view of the world and themselves during this time. 

I’ve paired up with the incoming editor of a high school newspaper to write this article. An article written weeks earlier quickly seemed less important with all that is occurring in our world. Because we agreed that our perspective would not capture the essence of what is happening right now, we have included the perspectives of two Black female high school students.

These Black students’ perspectives are connected to social connections and social emotional learning in schools. Social isolation for teens during COVID-19 is highlighting the need for human connections, but students are thinking deeply during this time. Self-awareness involves two important skills: appreciating diversity and respect for others. If anyone doubted the need for social emotional learning to be embedded in our schools, then the events we are witnessing in our communities across the nation, and in North Carolina right now are proof of this.

The students we spoke with feel overwhelmed dealing with social unrest while the pandemic is occurring and are frustrated by classmates disrespecting George Floyd’s death. Stephanie Fisher-Huynh is moving forward with a proposal for a Black Student Union (BSU) at her school and thinking about how to be inclusive and focused on creating a safe space for her Black peers. She believes that creating a Black Student Union is a positive step in fostering awareness and creating change for her peers. The BSU will be a safe space for students to talk and listen to each other’s thoughts, a place to heal, and a place to connect with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“People are afraid of what they don’t understand. I’m trying to educate people. My goal is to create a safe space for Black people,” Fisher-Huynh said. Creating a way for Black students to feel safe are important steps in creating a healthier and more equitable environment for students experiencing frustrations with current events.

These students recognize that social media has been instrumental in the current Black Lives Matter movement. People around the entire world have been able to express their support in a way that previous generations never could.  Change is needed for the Black Americans who have been demanding justice.

“I support Black Lives Matter, but these protests have been going on and we’ve been advocating for Black rights forever and nothing’s changed. My grandma had to deal with the same things that we’re dealing with today. What I hope happens now is that there is change for everybody,” Fisher-Huynh said. 

Madison Conyers said, “I could go to a protest and post about it, but I still don’t think that would change anything unless [people] are willing to change. It’s up to people whether or not they really want to be a part of the change.”

These events — these uncomfortable truths we are seeing and finally acknowledging — will be on the minds of teens and younger students as we return to a new school year. How will schools address the psychological safety of our students while simultaneously addressing the physical well-being of students? How will schools address the self-care educators need with the heavy lift being asked of them?

It’s not enough to say these are difficult tasks to achieve — they are essential tasks for the foreseeable future. Zora Neale Hurston said, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” The social emotional learning of these young leaders is being put to the test right now, but there is no grade to achieve.  Their journey through life and their impact on others will be the measure of how their education serves them. 

Be prepared for greatness as these socially-aware students gear up to enter the adult world in a few months. Their eyes are wide open.

Leigh Kokenes

Leigh Kokenes is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and the 2019 National School Psychologist of the Year.

Abby Pikett

Abby Pikett is a rising high school senior who will soon transition into the position of Co-Editor-in-Chief of her high school’s newspaper. Her interests include writing, reading, tennis, and spending time with family and friends. Pikett is passionate about the preservation of unbiased journalism.