CRLS Black Student Union Takes to the Press

The VolumeJessica Paul (left) and Hermella Kebede, contributors to The Volume.

Members of the Black Student Union, which was resurrected at Cambridge Rindge and Latin this school year, will launch a news publication focusing on the lived experiences of students of color this February.

Students were inspired to start The Volume by Frederick Douglass’s anti-slavery publication, The North Star, and by the Black Panther Party’s newspaper.

“Like the North Star, The Volume empowers black people and gives them some way of expressing their voice,” says junior Hermella Kebede, a contributor to The Volume.

The Volume will launch in early February both in print and online to coincide with Black History Month.

Junior Jessica Paul, who is Haitian, is pushing her comfort zone to write an article about how it felt to hear President Donald Trump’s derogatory comments about Haiti and African countries.

“Haiti [doesn’t mean being] a victim, but we should uplift Haiti for what it is,” she says. “I’m going to be including things that have happened to my family. My mom was mostly the one who would tell us about Haiti and put it in a positive perspective, which I’m really glad that she did.”

Hermella is working on a piece about the double binds that Black people often face.

“I wanted to talk about how, when you’re black, your culture and humanity are treated as two separate entities,” Hermella says. “If you express your culture, then you’re dehumanized. In order to be treated human, you need to stifle your culture.”

The publication will include a variety of articles including advice columns, satirical pieces—what if a “Get Out” TV show was filmed in Cambridge?—and book reviews.

Jessica and Hermella say they don’t think that the Register Forum, the school’s existing newspaper, has been problematic in its coverage. But when Hermella went to meetings for the paper she felt that Black voices were underrepresented.

“There aren’t a lot of students of color, not because the newspaper itself is unwelcoming, but there just aren’t a lot of people of color, and if you think about the demographics of the school, there’s a lot of Black people at Rindge,” she says. About 30 percent of CRLS students last school year were African American, according to state data.

History and psychology teacher Kevin Dua is the faculty advisor for the Black Student Union and helped revive the organization in September.

“The idea of trying to focus on how they could improve their community through their lived experiences was something that was agreed upon and necessary,” he says of The Volume. “The idea of trying to put a spotlight on this would be challenging but powerful, hence the focus on racial macro- and microaggressions within the school building.”

Hermella and Jessica both joined the Black Student Union after the group put out a video at the end of 2017 detailing racist micro- and macroaggressions that members had experienced at school.

“I was physically pushed out of a class by a teacher, and she called me a ‘fucking animal,’” one student recounts.

“The teacher would never be able to remember the names of the students of color who were male,” another student says. “She said, ‘It’s not my fault, I just get all those rowdy boys confused.’”

Many of the accounts involve people being surprised that students of color were in honors or AP classes.

Principal Damon Smith sent out a community email in response to the video saying that the school had work to do regarding “‘microaggressions and the lack of cultural competency in our professional community,’” according to the Cambridge Day. In an email to staff, Smith wrote that the video wouldn’t be used as a jumping-off point in future discussions because of “‘how the video was distributed’” and “‘elements of the video that implicated specific staff members,’” the Day reports.

The series—in which a second installment was released this week—prompted more students of color and white allies to join the Black Student Union, according to Dua.

The union is working on various projects in addition to The Volume and the Minority Reports series.

“I’m proud of the students,” Dua says. “The foundation that they are creating, not only for their school but for students they may never see, years from now, who will benefit from a Black Student Union newspaper, website, movie production, an open mic series, a charitable drive, a scholarship—the foundation that they are creating is remarkable.”