Maize South senior is building community to help students of color feel more welcome

As students bustle through the halls of Maize South High School this fall, they’ll admire a new mural near their English classes.

Emma Henderson, 17, is the founder of the Black Student Union. She and other members created the mural to help promote the ongoing work being done by BSU and the importance of club impact.

Henderson looks up at the mural she is creating with other students. The mural is an image of a woman with “genius freshness” and a quote from Maya Angelou: “Rise up and realize who you are, that you are in control of your situation.”

“I think [the quote] is really an ode to the freshman class and those who are younger and don’t realize the community they have and go through – what it’s like to go to a PWI, a predominantly white institution – and feel like they have someone behind them,” says Henderson.

Maize South High School, just west of Wichita, has about 1,000 total enrollment, including about 30 black students.

“It’s been…it’s definitely been a learning curve because when you walk into the classrooms, you’re usually the only black person,” Henderson says. “And you just love learning who’s interested in being your friend and interested in being part of your system and wanting to love, to be a backbone to you.

“Most of my classes last year, I was the only black kid. So it gets very lonely. But with the black student union, I feel so seen, and it’s a different experience for sure. “

Henderson founded the Black Student Union at Maize South in 2020.

“I had to come up with a constitution and fill out a lot of rules for the club and like the premise of what the club would be like. And then I had to present it to the student council,” she says.

Henderson says the board immediately approved the club. Since then, the BSU has been busy working on activities such as “The Recognition Project”.

“We suggested to teachers, via email, ways to include black historical figures in their current curriculum and specific ways unique to their curriculum,” Henderson said. “So not just random things, but things that would be easy for them to implement.

“And a lot of teachers responded. Some didn’t, but there were enough where I was happy with the turnout. I thought it was quite successful.”

Henderson, a 4.0 student, plans to major in statistics at college next year. She suggested learning about a black woman whose cells have led to many scientific breakthroughs.

“For example, when you talk about research ethics, you are talking about Miss Henrietta and how his cells have not been used ethically for research and how important it is for you to source research data ethically, and statistics involve a lot of data.”

Mural painting.JPEG

The club has about 8 active members. It is made up of black, multiracial students and one white student. The group is entirely female. Henderson expects more men to join this fall.

“The incoming freshman class seems a lot more diverse, and I feel like there’s a higher chance in general that they’ll be interested in joining,” she says. “We’re going to be at carnival this year – the school carnival fundraiser for our club – and of course we’ll be at the club fair. And I expect a lot of people to join us. I’m very excited.”

And Henderson is excited about the new mural near the English classes.

“It was [done] strategically because everyone takes English once a year, so everyone will see it,” she says. “I’m very excited to see people’s reactions. I’m just really excited for people to see what we’ve done.”

Henderson, now a senior at Maize South, wants the club to continue to thrive after graduation. She hopes her legacy is that black students feel empowered and validated by the club.

“I would like the students to come to school enthusiastic. That they’re going to have a black community in Maize South and they know they have someone in their corner and they’re not considering moving because they feel alone. I just feel like they have an overall community at Maize South. It makes me feel better than them even knowing that I created the club.”

About Maria Hunter

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