A soft-spoken seventh grader and a respected community leader last week told the McKeesport Area School Board they support the creation of a black student union.
The concept was first discussed in detail at the Feb. 27 board meeting.
During the public comment portion of the board's monthly meeting, Stephanie, a seventh-grade student, told the board that a black student union would help provide kids with skills in dealing with the consequences of their actions.
“You may ask why we want it,” she said. “It's not that we want it, we need it. It teaches kids right from wrong. If you take that away from us, we have nothing.”
Keith Murphy, who created the Healthy Village Institute in McKeesport and works with inner-city youth across the Greater Pittsburgh region, spoke in support of a black student union.
“I've created black student unions and I can tell you they teach children to hold each other accountable,” Murphy said. “This (concept) is not about race or an ideology that says ‘blacks only’ -- whites are in black student unions, too, to learn what this is about.”
Murphy sees the black student union as building caramaderie among peers and building confidence in children. “If a kid comes into a classroom with confidence that he or she can learn, chances are they are going to get what they need to get,” he said.
Superintendent Mark Holtzman Jr. said the board is “taking steps in that direction,” with the organization of a group of 20 or so ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th-grade student leaders under the direction of Tia Wanzo, assistant superintendent, and Brie Adams, assistant principal at Francis McClure.
The purpose of the group is to “start the conversation about a leadership organization,” Holtzman said. Students will make decisions without adult interference, he said.
“These students will reconvene in April with a meeting to include all students --- black, white and biracial --- so they can decide what type of student voice they feel that they need,” he said.
Holtzman said the student leaders will report directly to him and he will forward their report to the board for feedback “so whatever it is they choose, we are going to allow (students) to make those decisions moving forward with what's in the best interest of our student body.”
The students will decide whether to call the group a “black student union” or something else, he said. “There will not be adults involved, so (the students) can (decide) what they're naming that particular organization.”
Richard Finch Jr. is a freelance writer who covers news from McKeesport Area School District and North Versailles Twp. for Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published April 03, 2019.