EASTHAM — Nauset Regional High School’s observance of Black History Month last year caused controversy when an “All Lives Matter” banner was hung in a school hallway. This year, students say, the school is not having any formal celebration of Black History Month at all.
Among five Nauset students the Independent spoke with, just two said they had seen posters or decorations, and none had heard of an event being hosted to celebrate Black history. Last year, a rally and a movie night were sponsored by the school’s Black Students Union, according to Kimesha Harriott, a Nauset junior.
“Black History Month at school will be just a regular month,” said Harriott, who is president of the Nauset Multicultural Club. “There’s nothing exciting that’s going to happen.”
Harriott said that she had seen just one poster celebrating Black History Month in the school building as of Friday, Feb. 2. It was in the office of the school nurse, Meagan Santos. Santos said that she had made it with the help of students and used it as a “learning opportunity.”
Maura Kerse-McMillin, a Nauset English teacher who was the faculty adviser for the Black Students Union last year, said that beyond “a few posters” and commemorative music played at the end of the school day over the loudspeakers, there were no other plans to celebrate Black History Month at the school.
Harriott pointed out that the school is hosting a “winter spirit week” this month. “We could have had a Black History Month spirit week,” she said.
Julie Quigley, who teaches the school’s Exploring and Respecting Differences class, said that the course curriculum is focused on Black history for February. Students will make a mural honoring Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley and explore the idea of “revolutionary love,” which Quigley defines as “love based in humanity.”
Ian Hamilton, the faculty adviser for the social justice-focused Human Rights Academy at Nauset, said the club is planning on doing outreach events and creating “informational posters on Black artists and advocates” in celebration of the month.
Nauset Principal Patrick Clark did not respond to several requests for comment. Assistant principals Karen McGrath and HoYin Yuen also did not respond.
Last year, two Nauset seniors complained about the “All Lives Matter” banner that had been put up during Black History Month and asked Clark to take it down. They said it represented a dismissal of the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” But the school administration did not see anything wrong with the banner, according to School Supt. Brooke Clenchy. “It was a good message, not a bad message,” she told the Independent.
An Inactive BSU
Part of the reason there are no events planned for this year’s Black History Month is that the Black Students Union is not currently active, according to Kerse-McMillin. Scheduling conflicts among its members made it difficult for the group to meet, she said. According to Harriott, the group is being absorbed into the Multicultural Club.
“I’m sorry that hear that the Black Students Union is not meeting again this year, because it was a very strong group last year,” said Chris Easley, chair of the Nauset Regional School Committee.
Easley also attributed the lack of observance of Black History Month in part to staff turnover. He said that the former curriculum coordinator, Robin Millen, left Nauset last spring, and that she may have previously been involved in planning Black History Month events as a diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist. The school has not yet found a replacement for her.
When asked for her reaction to the fact that the administration had not organized any events for Black History Month, Harriott said, “I wouldn’t say that I’m surprised. At Nauset, if you want something to happen, you have to speak up and ask for it to happen.”
That’s what Harriott did last spring, when she wrote a letter to the administration requesting that there be a Multicultural Week at the school.
Harriott said she got the idea after she requested Jamaican songs at a Homecoming dance and they were not played. She asked the administration if she could organize an event to highlight cultural diversity at Nauset.
According to Harriott, Multicultural Week was the first multicultural celebration the school had ever hosted.
According to data collected by the state, 5.3 percent of Nauset High students — 40 students in all — identify as African American. A total of 16.5 percent of students are nonwhite.
The Multicultural Club is planning another event in May, this time just a day, not a week. Harriott imagines it could include a musical performance from a Cape Verdean singer and a soccer game.
Since Harriott first spoke to the Independent, she said, she has noticed more posters for Black History Month have gone up. Atalya Stewart, vice president of the Multicultural Club, said she saw several posters hanging in the cafeteria on Monday this week.