Perspective on Student Leadership

By Abby Steckel

I would define leadership at Berkeley High as the act of bringing diverse perspectives into conversation and planning actions to move towards improvement. To be a leader is not to speak for people, but to give them the ability to speak for themselves.

This year, BHS was devastated by an incredibly racist threat directed at black students and made on a library computer. For many, campus no longer felt like a safe space, if it ever had. Moreover, black students’ voices were and are undermined by the prejudices that exist at BHS, in Berkeley, and in the U.S. The next morning, less than 24 hours after the threat was made, the Black Student Union organized a walkout that gave powerful voice to the thoughts, feelings and needs of the black community. A large majority of the student body participated in the protest, attracting great attention and publicity as thousands of high schoolers marched from BHS to Old City Hall and then to Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley. Throughout the day, the BSU supported students as they spoke about racism and how to address it at BHS.

To me, what the BSU did and continues to do embodies the definition of leadership. The BSU facilitated the leadership of hundreds of other students in demanding action and creating a space for it to occur. This leadership extended far past the BHS campus, igniting discussion in the greater Bay Area and across the country. The Washington Post, based in D.C., reported on the walkout, in addition to many local newspapers. These events set a precedent of discussion and action and showed a huge capacity for student leadership.

I don’t think anyone would say that BHS has found or implemented a solution to racism, just as I hope no one would claim that the U.S. has remedied its history of racial oppression. However, the fact that students made sure that the threat’s terrible impact was at the forefront of conversation was an essential aspect of their leadership, and a key step towards progress.