Valencia BSU seeks to amplify Black voices for the next generation

Black History Month decorations were displayed all over the multipurpose room at Valencia High School for their BSU Sanctuary event on Friday. Katherine Quezada/The Signal
Black History Month decorations were displayed all over the multipurpose room at Valencia High School for their BSU Sanctuary event on Friday. Katherine Quezada/The Signal
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The Valencia High School Black Student Union hosted its second annual Black History Month Sanctuary on Friday, in which local Black leaders were invited to share insightful advice with the students. 

“Everybody here is Black,” Victor Vandell, science director at Quest Diagnostics, said to the gathered students. “It’s about all of us, and diversity is about all of our makeup. We’re all in the same tribe.” 

Prior to the second annual Black History Month Sanctuary event, Valencia senior and Black Student Union President Promize Thomas, senior and BSU Vice President Favor Ike, and junior and Social Media Manager Symone Adams were finalizing the decorations in the multipurpose room, and discussing the origin of the event.  

The event came to fruition a year ago when the students weren’t so happy with how Black History Month was being celebrated, said Thomas.  

“It was being focused on just slavery and the past. We want to look where we have gotten and just appreciate the diversity of successful people in our schools and in our community,” said Thomas.  

All three were excited to not only connect with students and provide a safe space for conversation but they were also eager to share insight “on what it actually is to be a part of the Black community,” added Adams.  

In addition to Vandell, the invited panelists were Selina Thomas, founder and CEO of 6 Degrees HR Consulting; Karen Dorris, vice president of the Santa Clarita chapter of the NAACP; actor Lance Alexander; and William S. Hart Union High School District board member Cherise Moore.  

The five individuals were invited to speak about the work that they do in the community, the adversities they overcame to get there, and advice they believed would be critical for the high school students to leave with to become the next generation of young leaders, no matter what color their skin. 

To further celebrate the month of Black history, Valencia BSU provided soul food to the students that consisted of fried chicken, mac and cheese, lemonade, and dessert, all donated by the local NAACP chapter.  

Questions asked by the BSU members to the panelists had a recurring theme and that was, “How to keep your identity in non-Black spaces and staying true to yourself when constantly being denied,” said Thomas.  

When asked what was one thing they wish they could say to their high school selves, Dorris responded with: “This time in history doesn’t define who you are for the rest of your life.”  

Dorris added that, in early stages, it’s OK to make mistakes and life is about learning through those mistakes. If mistakes aren’t made, then “you’re not trying,” she said.  

Vandell responded: “I am stronger than I know.”  

He said that he wishes he would have known how mentally strong he was at that age and what he was capable of. No matter if the person next to him was bigger, faster, or smarter, his mind would allow him to surpass them and succeed.  

All five panelists shared the trials and tribulations they have overcome in their lives.  

Stereotypes, language barriers, being different and being judged for it, were some of the common themes, yet they also shared how those challenges shaped them into who they are today: stronger, wiser and more confident.  

Participants agreed that the conversation among the panelists and students served as an enlightening experience for both parties: The students received crucial knowledge from successful local individuals and the panelists witnessed how determined Valencia High School students are becoming, and exhibiting their natural born leadership.  

Moore was happy to be a panelist and impressed at the dedication Thomas, Ike, and Adams had to create a safe space for discussion.  

“They are our future leaders, all our students who are here and in the world in which we live in,” said Moore. “I get excited when I think about their plans, their ideas, their goals for what the world is going to be and this is just one little seed of showing and elevating their future.”  

Gallery: Photos by Katherine Quezada/The Signal

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