The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education officially kicked off Black History Month at their meeting Wednesday.
Their meeting, which was the first in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic, featured a performance by Young, Gifted and Black, a group of school-aged performers singing and chanting in celebration of their culture and community.
“We are an African people; we will remember the humanity, glory and suffering of our ancestors,” the performers said in unison. “We will honor the struggles of our elders, we will strive to bring new values and new life to our people, we will have peace and harmony among us.”
These are the first lines of the “African Pledge,” a set of declarations written by Keddist Sellasie, according to the Young Gifted and Black website.
Following their performance, board president Laura Babbitt pointed out two flags hung up in the meeting room, one bearing the black, red and green of the Pan-African movement, the other with “Black Lives Matter” printed on it.
After acknowledging these flags, Babbitt noted that, in other months highlighting other communities, similar adornments would be arranged for them.
“We will be rotating that flag for all of the months that we celebrate in our community,” Babbitt said.
Following this introduction, the board took comments from the public, members of which sought, among other things, an increased commitment to the district’s English Language Development (ELD) program and the rescheduling of Berkeley High School’s graduation to a day of the week other than Saturday, in order to make the event accessible to observant Jews.
Saturday, BHS student Yair Naftalin-Kelman explained, is a day of rest for observant Jews, and events like a graduation would be out of the purview of the rest that the day calls for. His parents, who also spoke, mentioned that they felt their concerns had been ignored or not taken seriously.
“BUSD is not concerned about the experience of Jewish families. I know that BUSD can do better, and they should,” said Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, Yair’s father.
Following the time allotted for public comment and committee comments, members of the board were given a chance to speak.
Director Jennifer Shanoski spoke first, celebrating progress on the Workforce Housing development, a housing project that includes 110 units for teachers.
“I believe it’s the only educator-only housing project in California,” Shanoski said.
The project is expected to break ground in Spring of 2024, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2025, according to Shanoski.
Student director Teairra Brown, a new member of the board, got a chance to speak for the first time. Brown, who is a Berkeley Technology Academy student, is one of two student members of the board, and the only one from her school. She used her chance to speak to announce a Black History event being held by her school’s Black Student Union later this month.