Nevaeh Drummer and Naia Hobson testify at a school board meeting | Provided photo
| YOUNG VOICES
By Carolyn Dorantes
Black girls have always felt invisible in Salinas, but the Black Girl Magic Club is trying to change that. The club focuses on building a tight-knit community specifically for young Black girls in Salinas so that they can have a voice.
Members say the mission of the club is to make certain that Black girls in the Salinas Union High School District are supported in all matters, whether it be by listening to each other or by standing together to give emotional testimonials about the racism they have seen spread around social media.
Jordan Otty, a junior at Rancho San Juan High School, said the reason she joined the club was because “it was a safe place for all of us (Black girls) to come together and talk about the issues that we face together. It is just a safe place for us to feel that we’re invited and wanted.”
“These problems have been minimized and swept under the rug, and now we're taking the rug." Jordana Henry, founder of BGMC
The African American population in Salinas has always been a very small minority compared to whites and Latinos — in figures from the 2019 American Community Survey, it’s just 1.5%. With so few in the city, it makes it difficult for young Black people to find and connect with each other.
The Black Girl Magic Club was founded in 2019 at Rancho San Juan High School by teacher Jordana Henry. “I noticed the first year of the school opening that there were a lot of Black girls on campus,” said Henry, “and I wanted to make a connection and provide a safe space for them to be able to get together and meet each other and have their own space to have a community.”
The club is named for the term Black Girl Magic, often used to celebrate the successes of Black women and to show off what others have refused to see. It promotes self-love, but more importantly, support for other African American women. Most of the 20 members attend Salinas Union High School District high schools, but there are several middle school girls as well.
The group stepped up in recent weeks after an incident at Salinas High School involving the social media post of a Black baby doll that was mocked and abused. Henry told the SUHSD school board on Aug. 24 the Black Girl Magic Club was created to confront long-standing racial issues in the district. “These problems have been minimized and swept under the rug, and now we’re taking the rug,” she said.
Many of the members felt the need to speak out at the Aug. 24 SUHSD board meeting against the racist activity at Salinas High. “I feel that it was very important for everybody to know what us, Black people, go through,” said Mahogany Grant, a club member. “Some people think that it is not that serious, but it is serious to us and it is very important that we spoke out.”
Kaitlin Francis added, “I felt threatened. We look like that doll. How do they expect their students, who look like us, going back to their school and feel okay and safe? Even going to games at their school … having to go play against their students knowing that in other areas around their school that there are similar things happening.”
Some of the girls were able to speak to Dan Burns, the superintendent of SUHSD, the night before the board meeting.
“I feel that it was very important because we were given the chance to open up to him about how we were feeling and what changes we think that they [the board] need to make,” Otty said, “It gave us a lot of time to reflect to him what we talked about [as a club] and how we all felt together.”
The club also makes sure to celebrate all of the girls’ accomplishments and to teach them about strong Black women.
Within the club, Henry says she does her best to introduce the girls to Black authors and books with Black characters. She tries to educate the girls about African American leaders from the past and about contemporary women who the girls could look up to. Club meetings include a segment called Courageous Conversations, where they talk about subjects like mental health and body positivity.
“Part of our mission is to build up the girls’ self-esteem and to build confidence. And to learn how to overcome situations like this, of anti-blackness,” Henry said.
In the future, the Black Girl Magic Club members hope that SUHSD and the Salinas community will listen to their voices and offer them support.
“I think that within our (club) community, we are heard here,” said member Abigail Gadoy-Fernandez . “But I think once that gets extended … I don’t think that they (the SUHSD board members) thoroughly paid attention to what the students were saying. There were a lot of students that went and poured their hearts out, that were brave enough to go up there and … I don’t think they listened.”
Kaitlin Francis added, “For me, I feel like my voice was always heard, especially with Ms. Henry. I feel like a lot of other people are hearing more about (racism toward Black girls), so we are able to speak out more.”
Henry said the Black Girl Magic Club had to step forward during the controversy over the Black doll because “no one really reached out to check in. I understand that it is awkward. But they know that this group exists and nobody reached out to say, ‘Here are some tools or here is some support,’ or ‘If you’re having a meeting, can I come by to speak with the girls just to check in with them?’ There was no reach-out at all.”
Henry said she has a lot of hope for the club’s future.
“I love to see the girls taking on leadership roles,” she said. “After this event happened, I watched the girls go out and recruit girls from different schools and bring other girls in. And I love to see the mentorship. I have former students, alumni, coming back to mentor the girls. And then watching them also mentor our middle school girls. I hope in the future our club even expands to even offering something for the parents, so that they have a sense of community and a safe space as well.”
The club makes sure to hold regular meetings via Zoom, so that girls from all of the five high schools in the district are able to attend. Henry also decided that the club would hold monthly in-person meetings, so that members are able to do fun activities together.
“We exist for more than just protests,” Henry said. “We exist to learn how to celebrate more about Black joy, to learn our history, to create unity and community between the girls.”
- The Black Girl Magic Club is seeking help in purchasing books and materials. To support the organization through the Black Girl Magic Amazon Wishlist, click here for more information.
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