Durango High School’s Black Student Alliance heads to Atlanta
For many Colorado teenagers, a typical spring trip might involve skiing, rafting, or backpacking. By that standard, a few Black teens in Durango have unusual plans–they’re headed to Atlanta, Georgia, to immerse themselves in Black history and culture.
Durango High School's Black Student Alliance has been raising money for a year for the field trip. They sold cupcakes, ran a concession stand, and in December, they launched a GoFundMe campaign online—raising a total of $19,000. Out-of-pocket costs for each of the seven students will be $250.
Students and a few faculty advisors will tour historically black colleges and universities, eat soul food, and visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
“We don't have very many historically black colleges here in Colorado or even on the west coast,” explained Lyric Rodriguez, president of the Black Student Alliance. “(We’re) going to Atlanta because it's one of the most historically rich (places) that displays black culture.”
According to the U.S. Census, only .08% of Durango’s population is Black. Students in the school club aim to learn more about black culture, but they also want to raise awareness in Durango. While Black people make up a tiny fraction of the population, they still deserve recognition.
“There are different heritages and cultures (in Durango, not), just the white and skiing kind of average culture here,” Rodriguez said. “There's a very small black population, but we still need to be acknowledged. There's still racism that happens in this town.”
Giving Durango a taste of Black culture
At the recent Soul Food Dinner in March, students were able to celebrate Black culture and fundraise for their upcoming field trip simultaneously.
Barbecue chicken and mac & cheese aromas wafted through the Durango High School gymnasium. Club members served soul food to over 130 people.
Pan-African colored balloons decorated the tables, and posters celebrating Black History Month adorned the walls.
The gymnasium was filled with a warm social atmosphere. Club members served food and chatted with friends and other guests.
As part of the evening entertainment, one student, Paloma Romero, recited a poem about her perspective on Black love. Here’s an excerpt:
"Black love has been passed on between generations. It's a love that finds its roots in history and culture and the traditions we share. I feel like when you see black, a person might see violence and harshness. I personally see my beautiful mother with sweat glistening on her temples doing everything she can to shield me from the hurt of the world..."
As she emceed the dinner, Ava Allen, the Black Student Alliance’s historian, did a freestyle rap, highlighting the food on the menu. For Allen, sharing soul food traditions with diverse community members was essential to the event.
“It's not just for one culture, one race,” she said. “It's for everybody to come together and celebrate black lives and to understand the culture and the stories behind it.”
Atlanta, the “Black Mecca”
When they arrive in Atlanta later this month, students will have a chance to experience a city full of Black culture.
Since the 1970s, when Ebony magazine called Atlanta the “Black Mecca,” the city has been a cultural hub for Black America – from civil rights history to its Black-owned businesses and vibrant hip-hop scene to Black fraternities and Black elected officials.
Alan Batiste, a teacher at Durango High School and one of the club’s faculty advisors, views the field trip as an opportunity for students to explore their racial identities beyond Durango.
“It's hard,” he said. “You walk around, wherever you go, if you go downtown, if you're at the Rec Center if you're at a restaurant – you're not seeing yourself or people that look like you.”
Durango students will see reflections of themselves in the community and culture of Atlanta. Nearly half of Atlanta’s population is Black; most of the city consists of predominantly black neighborhoods.
The students will visit Morehouse College and Spelman College, two historically Black Colleges and Universities founded in the 1800s. They’ll also visit Georgia State University, which has more Black students than any other university in the United States.
Atlanta is the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. Durango students will visit Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was co-pastor with his father.
Some students said the trip might inform their decision on where they’ll go to college. Batiste and other mentors and parents hope the journey inspires these young people and enriches their lives even if they choose to stay in Durango after graduation.