African-American Student Union organizes anti-racism rally

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By Richard Li, Staff Reporter

Chants of “U-N-I-T-Y” rang throughout the large courtyard as Conestoga students and staff stood together to support the African-American Student Union’s (AASU) Black Out Against Racism Rally.

“I stand up here today to start at one small school in America in hopes of spreading a message: racism may never end but we will never stop fighting it,” junior Alex Caristan said in his speech at the rally.

Caristan was one of eight AASU members who presented speeches or poems at the rally during 3rd period on April 9.

The rally was a part of the AASU’s ongoing campaign to promote anti-racism at Conestoga. The campaign also involved presentations with CURE, Conestoga United in Reaching Equity, in 9th grade World Literature classes in April as well as the Black Out Against Racism spirit day on March 20. These events came after Conestoga students posted a video containing racial slurs in March, which came a year after students were involved in a similar video in 2018.

“In reaction to the racist videos that were posted on social media, the African-American Student Union felt that there should be anti-racism messaging throughout the year, whether it’s in the classroom, or in our clubs and activities, or in these larger events like the rally,” AASU club adviser Leashia Lewis said.

After obtaining approval from Conestoga’s administration, the AASU promoted their rally through social media, t-shirt sales, word of mouth and Good Morning Stoga. As a result, hundreds of students and faculty leaving their third period classes to listen to speeches in the courtyard.

Students wore the AASU’s anti-racism wristband or t-shirt to express their support for the event, and AASU members held signs advocating unity and change. Throughout the 30-minute walkout, members of the AASU spoke to the crowd addressing the effects of racism and goals for the future.

“The purpose of the rally was to give students whose voices are not always heard a voice to express their experiences here at Conestoga High School,” Lewis said “The goal was to say to everyone in the community that this is how we feel, this is what we experience, and this is how we feel we could do better, just so all voices are heard, feelings are expressed, and we can come together in unity.”

Unity was a common theme throughout the rally. Between each speech, the students and faculty in the courtyard clapped in unison and chanted “U-N-I-T-Y.” Speakers were introduced by freshman Ray Walker, who also presented the opening and closing remarks.

Caristan believes that although all of the speakers have similar views on racism, they expressed their sentiments in unique ways.

“We have the same general consensus, but these got into the nit and grit. Some people shared personal stories or personal poems they’d written, and some people just shared a broader message about racism,” Caristan said. “I went more for the broader picture because I don’t have that many specific examples in my life. The point I was trying to get across was essentially ‘educate yourself so you don’t have an excuse to be racist.’”

Senior AJ Riley attended the rally and said that he felt moved by the speakers’ stories.

“I felt like the speakers did a really good job and I feel like I was pretty moved by their stories. A lot of people showed up and I think it was a really good showing of the school’s unity,” Riley said.

Senior and club president Tajsha GrayVause spoke towards the end of the walkout, discussing the issue of racial slurs in the school community. Gray-Vause felt like the rally allowed students to better understand the speakers and the individuals they represented.

“The amount of people who showed up and just came out to show their support really moved me because I wasn’t expecting that many students to come out and want to hear us speak. I also wasn’t expecting it to be that
quiet — you could sense the intensity in the courtyard. It meant a lot that now they’re listening and have a better outlook on how we feel,” Gray-Vause said.

Lewis believes that the rally helped reassure individuals who have felt marginalized in the past and hopes that it will serve as a precursor to more positive discussion in the future.

“It seems like these efforts, with the school participating and being a part of their efforts, has been well-attended. This was really reaffirming for anybody in this building who has felt marginalized — the idea that, actually the people who are racist and not open to hearing somebody else’s views are the marginalized ones,” Lewis said.

Continuing with their efforts to eliminate racism at Conestoga, the AASU hopes to hold a teach-in discussing racism later this school year and work together with the upcoming Students Organizing Against Racism (SOAR) group, which will be composed of students of different backgrounds and focus on spreading anti-racism messages.