“We recognize that to be a male is a matter of birth, but to become a man is a matter of choice. We know our history and respect our culture.”
These are two of 10 assertions that over two dozen school community members recite once a month as part of their club pledge at the Brothers Seeking Academic Excellence (BSAE) meeting.
BSAE is a group for black and Latino male students to come together and, alongside Director of Multicultural Services Lewis Bryant, School Counselor Doug Neuman, and five male teachers of color, discuss topics that relate to the males in the two minority groups.
“The club is about empowerment, affirmation, and self-determination,” Mr. Bryant said. “The boys open up, they feel free, they talk about BSAE being a safe space where they can be themselves and share with one another and give advice to other brothers.”
Mr. Bryant and Mr. Neuman created BSAE after an achievement study conducted 10 years ago produced recommendations for a program that would provide mentoring and support for black and Latino boys at the school. The study—led by University of Massachusetts (UMASS) Boston Professor Lisa Gonsalves and undertaken by a group of researchers in the sociology and education departments at UMASS and Simmons College—recorded the grades and test scores of black and Latino boys at the school and conducted comment-based surveys and focus groups with students, parents, and faculty.
Students are invited to join BSAE at the beginning of each school year through an email in which Mr. Bryant explains the group and the calendar for the first three months of the fall. Those interested attend, and the group is solidified after these first few meetings, Mr. Bryant said.
In the past, certain students who are neither black nor Latino have also attended the club, he added, either because Mr. Bryant personally invited them or because current BSAE members thought they would be interested and reached out. Last year, for example, one of BSAE’s senior leaders was Aidan Park ’18, who is of Asian descent and joined the club when several members of the group thought he would be a valuable addition, Mr. Bryant said.
Every BSAE meeting, the group starts off by saying grace in a non-religious manner, reciting the pledge, and re-introducing themselves to the rest of the group to feel closer to one another. Then they eat dinner from Ma Magoos together and afterward either divide into smaller groups or gather as one to watch and discuss videos or share recent events that have impacted them, BSAE member Mehdi Epée-Bounya ’21 said.
In the past, the group has also brought in speakers of color who share their experiences in their respective careers and mentor the students on how to handle certain scenarios, Mr. Bryant said.
BSAE’s most recent speaker was Dr. Ousmane Power-Greene, a professor from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, who teaches a class on the movie Black Panther. Dr. Greene conversed with the students about what they thought of the movie and how it affected them, and he spoke about finding resources like BSAE beyond high school, Mr. Bryant said.
BSAE Co-President Devonte Nurse ’19 said he found Dr. Power-Greene’s insights on college life extremely helpful.
“He just helped us realize that there is not always going to be BSAE, but there is always going to be someone or a group of people that you are going to be comfortable with,” Devonte said. “Trying to create that group when you’re in college, or trying to find ways to help other people and help yourself, is a really fantastic thing to do.”
Science Teacher and Football Coach Terry Cox, who joined BSAE this year as a faculty member new to the school, said he felt the mentoring system and environment the juniors and seniors set up with the younger students were invaluable. Mr. Cox said he realized this after hearing from current upperclassmen at a BSAE meeting explains how the seniors before them became their role models.
“These [alums] were people who they felt like they could go to beyond their typical friends or family, as they established what [younger students] thought of as home at BB&N,” Mr. Cox said. “They made the school a place where they could feel comfortable, and [the upperclassmen discussed] how they wanted to be that for other kids, kids that were younger.”
BSAE Co-President Jaylen Smith ’19 said the group has helped shape his identity and understand the importance of being able to talk about shared experiences with his peers.
“[BSAE] has made me a more stand-up guy because now I’m less passive in the way that I combat micro-aggressions and different things that I wouldn’t know how to handle my freshman year,” Jaylen said. “I definitely think it has made me more proud of who I am.”
—Aanika Patel ’21