On an early Thursday morning last month, an office right off of the quiet, sleepy library at Badger Ridge Middle School was full of laughter and music.
That room, occupied by BRMS teacher Shayla Glass-Thompson and her seventh and eighth grade Black Girls Circles of Support students, are working on their projects for the upcoming Black History Month Showcase on March 6 and connecting with one another over their commonalities with one another as teenage black girls. They’re making TikToks for the showcase and researching black culture, and talking about the importance of black women to wear their natural hair without judgement.
It’s a space where the girls can be themselves and talk about their shared experiences as young women of color, Glass-Thompson said.
“Just knowing that there is a space that they can go to, with girls who are like them, and be able to hang out in a space where their language isn’t going to be policed, or just their way of being isn’t policed, I think that they appreciate that the most about this group,” she said.
Glass-Thompson started a Black Girls Circles of Support group with sixth graders in 2017 after working with Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, the project director for Natural Circles of Support, Inc.
Lewis’ project, which started in 2011, works to provide support for K-12 African American and other students of color by building on their strengths and aspirations, according to the Circles of Support website.
“It started with black students – (they) could have a safe space where they had mentorship, can kind of talk through their experiences in school, set goals, work through academic stuff,” Glass-Thompson said.
She now works with seventh and eighth grade girls as part of their Circle, with fellow BRMS teacher Andrea High working with sixth grade students.
For student Asther Gitchel, the Circle is one of the few places she has the opportunity to get “the black experience.”
At home, her parents and the majority of her family (with the exception of two siblings) aren’t black, so outside of the Circle, there’s not many people she can connect with that understand her experiences, she said. The Circle has taught her that being black is something that she should celebrate.
“It has changed my life because I’ve gotten closer with my friends, I got to know the teachers more and I got to understand black culture more,” she said. “Even though we have a darker pigment than other people, (I’ve learned) that we can still get a career, we just have to work hard, if we work hard, we’re going to have a successful life.”
Student Terriana Musgray said her confidence level has increased since joining the group because of the people she’s grown closer to and what she’s learned.
“We talk about things we don’t usually talk about in school,” she said. “We talk about the stuff we don’t really learn, a lot of history … I learned how to speak up more.”
Student Elonie Williams joined the Circle because she wanted to have a space where she could talk to other students who are black and go through some of the same things she does.
Williams said she knew most of her peers before joining, but being a part of the group allows her to have a space where she feels comfortable being herself.
“It just seemed fun because there was other black people in there that I could relate to,” she said. “We do fun stuff in there, and we talk about things we need to talk about as black girls.”
Student Cali Salzman said the Circle makes her feel more comfortable in her own skin, and makes dealing with the hard aspects of being a person of color easier.
Salzman said that often she’s followed around in grocery stores near her home when she’s alone.
“Basically, being a person of color, especially being a girl of color, it’s really hard … going out in the store or driving in a car and getting pulled over or getting followed in the store,” she said. “Especially if you have white parents, you get extra looks.”