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Maize South senior builds a community to help students of color feel more welcome

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Maize South High School students Emma Henderson, Alex Moyer, Hannah O'Connor, Alyssa Howard and Hope Glover. They are all members of the school's Black Student Union.

A club at Maize South High School wants to help students of color feel more comfortable.

As students are bustling through the hallways at Maize South High School this fall, they'll gaze upon a new mural near their English classes.

Seventeen-year-old senior Emma Henderson is the founder of the Black Student Union. She and other members created the mural to help promote the ongoing work being done by the BSU and the importance of the club’s impact.

Henderson looks up at the mural she’s creating with other students. The mural is an image of a female with "a funky fresh 'fro" and a quote from Maya Angelou: "Stand up and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.”

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

Maize South High School, just west of Wichita, has an enrollment of about 1000 overall, including about 30 Black students.

"It has been…it's definitely been a learning curve because when you come into the classrooms, you're usually the only Black person," Henderson says. "And you kind of just like learn who is interested in being your friend and interested in being a part of your system and wanting to like, be a backbone for 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 filled out a lot of rules for the club and like the premises of what the club would be. And then I had to present it to the student council," she says.

Henderson says the council approved the club immediately. Since then, the BSU has been busy working on activities like "the acknowledge project."

"We suggested the teachers, via email, ways that they could include black historical figures in their current curriculums and specific ways that were unique to their curriculum," Henderson says. "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 satisfied with the turnout. I thought it was pretty successful."

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

"An example would be when you're talking about research ethics, you would bring up Henrietta Lacks and how her cells were not ethically used for research and how it's important for you to ethically source research data, and statistics involves a lot of data."

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The club has about 8 active members. It’s made up of Black, multi-racial and one white student. The group is all females. Henderson expects more males to join this fall.

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

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

"This 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 to it. I'm just very excited for people to see what we've done."

Henderson, now a senior at Maize South, wants the club to continue to thrive after she graduates. She hopes her legacy is for Black students to feel empowered and validated by the club.

“I would like students to come into high school excited. That they're gonna have a Black community at Maize South and know that they have someone in their corner and not contemplate moving schools because they feel alone. Just feeling like they have an overall community at Maize South. That makes me feel better than them even knowing that I started the club."

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.