From Adisa Preston’s perspective, racial injustices involving police can happen anywhere.
As an African-American, the 18-year-old Eden Prairie High School senior said that’s “something you automatically know.”
From afar, Preston saw it happen in Louisville when plainclothes officers killed Breonna Taylor in March 2020 and Atlanta when police killed Rayshard Brooks in June 2020.
But it is Eden Prairie’s close proximity to the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright that gives her the most pause.
“It hurts more when you realize this is in your own backyard,” Preston said. “That could have been you, or it could have been your dad or your brother or sister.”
A place to call their own
Amid local and national racial tumult, Preston and five other Eden Prairie students rebooted the Black Student Union (BSU) group this school year.
BSU is an equity and anti-racism student group. The club existed in past school years but went away after student leaders graduated.
Most of the 60 or so BSU members are black or of African descent.
“(The new BSU) started last year when a few students realized that we didn’t have one and that sense of community was lacking within the school,” Preston said. “Black students didn’t really have a place where we could all go and feel we belonged. We really wanted to bring it back for the community.”
Three BSU leaders—Preston and juniors Niamya Holloway and Kendall Minta—recently sat down for a wide-ranging interview on the club, race, a recent student walkout, and the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
They say the community bonds forged among its members have helped them discover the power of their collective impact to make a difference.
“We know we are students, but I’ve made more change here in the last few years at Eden Prairie than I made probably my whole life,” said Holloway, 17. “(At the high school), they emphasize you have a voice, and you can be heard, and you can make changes.”
EPHS dean Sally Ratemo, who serves as BSU student advisor, said the club advocates and creates opportunities for black students to voice their interests on campus. It also serves as a safe place to learn and discuss black issues, histories, and culture.
Topics range from deep conversations on racism in America to lighthearted chats on dance, music, or TikTok. The club’s other three leaders are seniors Nedwa Abdi, Nawal Aydid, and Amal Adam.
“We make a point to focus on having a sense of community and a sense of belonging,” said Minta, 17. “We wanted it to be a fun, relaxed place where everybody understands where you’re coming from.”
Because of the pandemic, BSU meets online once a month. “But we’ll have an emergency meeting if people need to let out what they’re feeling,” Holloway said.
Helping students fulfill their vision
Ratemo believes in the club’s message. That’s why members handpicked her to be the staff advisor.
“They are the mastermind, and I run with that,” said Ratemo, noting that each school club has an advisor. “They tell me they need time; I make it. They need space; I create it. Whatever they need, I get their vision, and I help them implement it to the best of my ability.”
Ratemo is leaving at the end of the year to work for two years at a school in Nairobi, Kenya. She is confident returning club members will find the right advisor.
Since many members are freshmen and sophomores, BSU leaders are hopeful the group will thrive next year and beyond.
“The message we keep instilling to our kids is that it’s not about us as people, it’s about what we’re bringing to the school, that diversity, that belonging, that importance of having space,” Ratemo said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re here or not. That should be the foundation that we set that we leave here.”
“If you can get traction for this group, the sky is the limit (for its future),” said EPHS Principal Robb Virgin. “They’re actively engaged. Clubs are all over the map as far as engagement.”
School walkout against racial injustice
BSU teamed with organizers of the group Minnesota Teen Activists to plan the school’s part in a coordinated statewide student walkout on April 19 to protest against racial injustice.
Students walked in solidarity with the family of Wright, killed by a police officer in Brooklyn Park on April 11, and all victims of police brutality across the country.
Preston said the walkout aimed to raise awareness and make changes to a flawed system.
Helping BSU plan the EPHS walkout were two other student clubs: Dare 2 Be Real and Young Democrats. (Virgin said administrators respected the student’s rights to walk out as long they followed the rules. He sent out a letter to students and families beforehand.)
“We want young people’s voices to be heard,” Preston said. “We have to be the ones who change society. These systematic problems are falling on us as young people. We have to step up and make the change.”
During the walkout, students talked about what needed to happen to make lasting changes.
“It’s not just small things, like saying a slur or being rude, but it’s the whole entire system that needs to be dismantled and then recreated,” Preston said.
A month later, Preston, Holloway, and Minta say they are proud of the couple-hundred or so EPHS students who took part. Many donated food or supplies to the Wright family.
“It shows that a lot of people do truly want to see change,” Preston said. “It was a diverse group of people. I do hope they continue with the movement, and they continue fighting for what’s right.”
Chauvin verdict reaction
A day after the walkout, BSU members reacted with the rest of the world to the guilty verdict of Chauvin in last May’s murder of Floyd.
It surprised Holloway.
“Honestly, as a black person, it keeps being something that’s happening,” she said. “I didn’t think that he was going to be charged guilty. It was a big sigh of relief for me.”
But then Holloway and Minta thought about how the club could help bridge gaps between different backgrounds and ethnicities.
“Obviously, we’re students, so there’s a limited number of things we can do,” Minta said. “But we can use our voice to emphasize making creative change and how we’re going to use all our power throughout our school and our community.”
What they’ve learned
The past year’s difficulties have taught the three much about their own initial perceptions of people.
“I’ve learned people sometimes aren’t as bad as I make them out to be,” Holloway said. “In the last year, it’s easier to talk to people about what’s happening. There’s a certain amount of people who do care, who are willing to learn, who are willing to listen.”
It showed Minta who she can trust.
“The people willing to put in the work have shown who they are,” Minta said. “But there’s also people less likely to support you as a person. So, finding the balance of when can I educate someone and help them become a better person and when do I not associate myself with the negative energy.”
Holloway, Minta, and Preston all want to continue their activism after their high school careers end.
They plan to continue using any platform they have to help do so. Currently, Holloway, who plays basketball and track, Minta, who plays volleyball, and Preston, who plays volleyball and track, point to athletics as their platforms.
“Being able to see them as your peer and recognizing this is truly a community thing,” said Preston, attending Macalester College in St. Paul in the fall. “We need to put each other at the same level.”
Students seeking more information on Eden Prairie's Black Student Union can visit EPHS co-curricular or epbsu on Instagram.
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