Black Student Union aims to create larger community for students of color

New club plans to focus on giving more leadership roles and opportunities to black students at Lawrence High


Dylan Wheatman

Senior Jillian Collier, president of the Black Student Union, leads a September club meeting.

By Zana Kennedy, Reporter

When senior Jillian Collier started going to Lawrence High School, she noticed that there was a Gender and Sexuality Alliance, a Latin American Student club, but not many spaces specifically for the voices of black students.

When Collier lived in the Piper School district, she was part of the Black Students of America club, where she was not only the president, but also hosted conferences focusing on issues of race faced by students of color. When she realized that Lawrence High did not have an organization similar to the one at her previous school, Collier thought that the Black Student Union club would be a great asset to the community.

“I realized that Lawrence did not have an affinity space for black students,” Collier said. “There’s a lot of spaces for students and a lot of spaces for student leadership, but not a lot of black leadership.”

Coach Audrey Trowbridge, the sponsor of the Black Student Union club agrees that there needs to be more of a community for students of color at LHS.

“As a black woman I understand the importance of affinity spaces for students,” Trowbridge said. “It was important to me to be involved and available to help students navigate through the experience.”

Establishing the club has gone pretty smoothly so far, but junior Kem Allen also thinks that the process has been a lot of work.

“It’s been pretty crazy, because we got our president and then our vice president and then it was just finding the other leadership roles, sponsors and other members,” Allen said. “It’s just kinda all over the place to be honest.”

The Black Student Union Club has several activities planned for this year already, starting off with a conference similar to the ones held by Collier at her previous high school.

“We plan on hosting a black leadership conference that should cover the Kansas City region and the Lawrence and Topeka region,” Collier said. “This conference will be called ‘Exelorate’ and we plan to have it in October. The theme of this conference is ‘How to excel as a black student in a predominately white school.’”

The club plans on hosting a barbecue and a flag football game, and are experimenting with different activities. Junior Rai’Onna Helm is looking forward to continuing to try these new activities and seeing what works.

“We were doing a sunrise activity where we would all get together early in the morning, and just hang out, lay out on the football field, talk and get to know one another,” Helm said. “But it’s very difficult with athletes and different things going on especially during the school year, so we’re still just workshopping ways to bond and build relationships with each other.”

Allen says the Black Student Union plans on going beyond Lawrence High, and the club has already made arrangements to partner with other high schools.

“Right now we are linked up with Free State and some of their kids,” Allen said. “We just try to let other kids know about it and they spread it at their schools.”

They also plan on starting a mentor program for the middle schools in the surrounding area, with the intention of impacting them in a meaningful way.

“We can reach South, West, and Central, and some of those other middle schools that are pretty close by, just really impacting those black students to let them know that you have a voice, you have a place in your school district,” Collier said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you come from, at the end of the day we’re all essentially the same.”

Many members of the Black Student Union want the club to grow over the course of the year, so they can continue to provide an inclusive place for students.

“I hope that a year from now we see an increase in membership and that students are ready to build on the foundation that’s being set and that students are ready to take the club to the next level,” Trowbridge said. “It should get better and stronger every year.”

Members of the Black Student Union are already beginning to feel a sense of community. As they have started to meet other members of the organization, many feel more connected with the club and look forward to the people they will meet.

“I definitely feel like I’ve gotten more of a family from this club,” Helm said. “They are very understanding and inclusive and I feel like they get some of the things that have happened or what it’s like to be a student athlete that’s black at LHS.”

Collier encourages everyone who is interested to sign up for the Black Student Union.

“The biggest thing I want to convey is that Black Student Union is not just for black students,” Collier said. “It’s for our allies, it’s for our friends, it’s for our family, it’s for those that want to be a part of effecting change, and that’s really what Black Student Union is.”