This school year, Elisha Telfort ’23 proposed the idea to start Sacred Heart Academy’s first Black Student Union. Telfort was inspired to form this club by her ambition to see the development and growth of Black women. By starting the BSU, she hoped to provide Black students in the SHA community with a safe space specific to them. In an interview, Telfort stated, “Now that SHA has a BSU, I am driven to keeping the club going because being a Black woman, I recognize the struggle of attending a PWI (Predominantly White Institution).” Telfort further stated, “It is easy to feel out of place, or as if you do not belong when you do not look like those around you, but I hope that students of color at SHA will find the BSU to be a resource and outlet that will only benefit current and future classes of Black women at SHA.”
The purpose of a Black Student Union is to bring forth unity and representation for students of color in school communities. BSU’s celebrate and encourage cultural diversity and seek to provide members with a haven to be themselves unapologetically. In a world where Black women are constantly overlooked, SHA’s BSU works to empower and inspire club members and promote the fact that they are capable of anything, and eliminate the stigma against Black women. The mission of SHA’s BSU is to advance Black awareness within the SHA community and keep club members engaged in activities, inner community services, and school events designed to foster Black awareness. The BSU is a place for students of African American descent to feel safe and understood in their own community, and to be the primary advocates for their Black peers. It is also a place for students to express the challenges and concerns they may face and be encouraged to rise above these difficulties.
This year, SHA’s BSU is comprised of five board members: Elisha Telfort ’23 (Founder and President), Bryahna Bailey ’23 (Vice President), Kennia Rosenard ’22 (Secretary) Nicole Ankrah ’22 (Treasurer), and Reese Russo ’23 (Board of Committees and Social Media Chairperson). Each board member aids Telfort in planning and facilitating club meetings and events. The board consistently meets to corroborate ideas and expand their vision and focus for the BSU. Telfort hand-picked each member of the BSU Board and stated, “I am friends with each member of the board in different ways, and through my friendship with these girls, I have paid attention to their goals, drive, and ambition. I did not select them just because they are my friends, but because they possess the same strive and goals that I have in regard to creating a BSU at SHA. Seeing them actively post about social justice issues and hearing their takes on what is happening in the world encouraged me to choose them to assist me in forming this club. I was confident in their ability to embrace our mission and do the work required to make the club a success.”
This school year, the club has held meetings surrounding topics such as Mental Health in the Black Community, Natural Hair Care, and Self-Care. The club is also anticipating holding meetings in the future focusing on topics like the African Diaspora, College Advice and Historically Black Colleges/Universities, Stereotypes/Microaggressions, and the Evolution of Dance, Music, and Fashion within the Black community. The club also hopes to invite guest speakers to meetings to speak further on these topics.
The BSU has also initiated a mentorship program. The board members reached out to Black SHA alumni from the years 2005-2021 pairing them with members of the BSU. Based on a survey asking each club members interests, the major they are considering, and career paths they want to pursue, students were paired with their mentors and encouraged to reach out to them with any questions and concerns they may have as they journey through high school and navigate through life. Several club members have found their connection with their mentors to be quite beneficial. Bryahna Bailey stated, “It was nice getting to talk with my mentor. Her name is Jaala Welch, and she graduated SHA in 2016. It was not difficult to start a conversation with her, and the conversation flowed very easily. I didn’t feel pressured to hold anything back when I spoke with her which is something I have needed in my life when it comes to having a simple conversation with someone. My mentor and I have talked about things like our schoolwork, our siblings, what we want out of life, relationships, personal interests, etc. It really was like talking to one of my older sisters. She did not judge me or make me feel bad about anything I told her, and she made me feel seen. We have very similar stories regarding our parents and how we have felt attending SHA. It was refreshing talking to someone who has been through most of what I am going through and receiving advice on how I can live a better life overall!” Alyvia Foster ’22 also detailed her experience with her mentor stating “It has been a great experience working with my mentor! Her name is Warner Dixon, and she graduated from SHA in 2015. Warner is a recent graduate of Howard University, a school I am interested in attending. It has been quite helpful getting to talk with her about her experience at Howard, and her responses have increased my interest in the college and have helped me navigate and identify my future career goals. She also answers my personal questions and is very open with me. She lets me know that she is available any time to chat, and I make sure to make use of my ability to network with her.”
The BSU has also held numerous fundraising events such as bake sales, Thanksgiving and Christmas Candy Grams, and a Pizza Party. All proceeds from these fundraisers went toward funding the club’s first mixer. The BSU held a BSU Party in collaboration with Notre Dame-West Haven High School’s BSU. The party had the theme, “Rep Ya Flag” inviting students to celebrate their various heritages, and dance to the music of different cultures. The BSU hopes to continue its alliance with Notre Dame in the near future and work together to bring comfort and representation to Black men and women across high schools.
Students involved with the club have had numerous positive thoughts about the creation of the BSU. Chiamaka Alino ’22 stated, “It feels so nice to truly celebrate Black people and Black culture. The BSU has been a wonderful addition to my final school year at SHA! Elisha and the rest of the BSU board have done such a wonderful job with planning events and club meetings, and I’m very proud to be a part of it. My favorite BSU club meeting was definitely the Mental Health meeting. The board discussed their mental health experiences as individuals, and mental health in the Black community as a whole. It was a beautiful learning experience, and I feel it helped me understand my Black peers on a much deeper level. I’m excited to see what else the BSU has planned for the year!” Tiana Andrews-Harris ’23 also expressed her thoughts on the BSU stating, “Having a BSU at SHA is really comforting for me as a Black student at predominantly White all-girls school because I feel as though Black women do not often get enough appreciation. The BSU provides me with a space to be appreciated and supported, and I now walk around school confident and proud of my Blackness. This club is beautifully led by our amazing, talented President and her committee, and I am proud to say that this club is one of the best things I have received during my time at SHA.” Tiearra Charles ‘23 stated, “With the start of SHA’s first Black Student Union, the SHA community has been able to learn about new topics that are not frequently discussed. We also had the privilege to enjoy a very fun mixer between SHA and ND. The BSU has helped me, and many other students feel more comfortable with themselves at SHA and have also provided a safe space for many girls to discuss thoughts and feelings they typically digress from expressing.”
With over 40 members of the school community involved, the creation of SHA’s first BSU was a success, adequately providing Black students at SHA with a community, and the representation needed to feel supported, acknowledged, and encouraged at the school.