BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ- After the Berkeley Heights ‘March for Black Lives’ protest in June, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, members of the community came together to form “BH Unfiltered,” a group committed to racial justice and spreading understanding through the community. 

Originally founded by all Governor Livingston High School (GLHS) alumni of color, the group was founded on the basis of helping to facilitate discussion in the community about race relations, social justice, and promotion of education towards the black and brown communities. 

In the 2020-2021 school year, the GL club formerly knows as “Student Activism Club”--now “GL Unfiltered”-- has joined forces with BH Unfiltered, giving the two organizations the unique advantage of having past and present students committed to working towards change. 

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Discussing the merge, Co-founder of GL Unfiltered and senior at GL Mackenzie Pierce said, “Our club partnered with BH Unfiltered because we found that all of our beliefs aligned really well. Making our club a branch of Unfiltered gives us the backing and support of the Unfiltered team and that support is so important and will help us achieve even greater things.”

Sara Fajardo, senior and fellow co-founder, said, “GL Unfiltered aims to create an inclusive space for ALL GL students while also taking active approaches in encouraging the school to promote inclusivity.”

At the forefront of both organizations; change within the school curriculum and culture, as well as enhanced community education. Overall, both organizations hope to promote a more accepting environment while promoting civil discussions.

BH Unfiltered has already begun its mission of education, posting personal experiences and stories of their members on their website’s blog. The group noted the best way to promote awareness is to put a face to it, as done on their website and social media. 

Shortly following the death of George Floyd and civil unrest within the country, an email sent to the student body from Principal Rob Nixon said, “As a school, we strive to foster inclusive environments and promote empathy, respect, and acceptance.  Education will forever be at the core of what we do.”

On the topic of education, in an interview with BH Unfiltered, members discussed how changes could come into the school system. 

GL Alumni Victoria Vanriele spoke about her hopes for change to come not only within the school culture but also through curriculum. She said, “I feel that there's room for curriculum to be implemented such as curriculum that teaches students about the value of people of color throughout American history... giving them a broader world sense.”

Vanriele discussed the boundaries of only implementing change through curriculum. She explained, “It can't just be straight teaching, people need to be able to voice their opinion, no matter what it is, and try to understand each other, understand where everyone's coming from, and that's where you can make real change.”

Member Tara Prabhu, along with other members, proposed the idea of implementing mandatory bias- training for all teachers within the school district. She said, “Social education is just as important as academic education and kids are like sponges, especially at young ages. If a teacher reflects a bias, chances are, a kid is also going to reflect that bias.” 

Discussions continue within the GL community. Last school year students were offered an optional discussion about race and policing within the community. At one discussion, shortly after the death of George Floyd, Berkeley Heights Police Chief John DiPasquale virtually answered students’ questions with regard to local police policies, use of force, and changes to come. 

Additionally, many schools in New Jersey are required to have more lessons focusing on diversity as well as lessons on the LGBTQ+ community, as signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy in 2019.

When asked why the group was formed, member Mikayla Sanchez said, “If we're waiting for the perfect time, the best time when everyone is going to be on board with this, we’re never going to have that time. So if it was never going to be a good time for this to be brought up,  seeing the climate in town, we needed to take our opportunity to do it now.”

More information about BH Unfiltered and upcoming events can be found on their website, here.

Editor's note: Aidan English is a junior at Gov. Livingston High School participating in the TAPinto Berkeley Heights internship program. To learn more contact Bobbie Peer at bpeer@tapinto.net.