Dwight Taylor with Marguerite and Tony Green
Nearly 20 years ago, Dwight Taylor Sr. ’00 was a student leader in the O’Dowd Black Student Union (BSU). Today, Taylor is the co-advisor of the BSU at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, empowering the next generation of leaders.
A motivational speaker and author, Taylor says being an active participant in the O’Dowd BSU was one of the greatest experiences of his high school career. “Our BSU was an extension of my immediate family. If things in my life were going great, my BSU family was there to celebrate me. If things weren’t going so great, they were empathetic and always came up with ways to keep me focused. I was constantly being encouraged, empowered and equipped to be the very best me that I was created to be. BSU challenged me to be a leader who led by serving others. It also allowed me to be involved in something that was bigger than myself,” he said.
“My BSU experience at O’Dowd is what inspired me to accept this role and I hope my Hiram Johnson BSU students take away the same things that I did from my O’Dowd experience, especially a sense of ownership and pride in our culture,” Taylor said. “To make that hope a reality, Mr. Green and Mama Green have graciously agreed to mentor me throughout this new journey. With their mentorship, I know that I’ll be able to make the Hiram Johnson BSU as successful and significant as they have made the O’Dowd BSU.”
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Green said Dr. Richard Navies, who instituted the first BSU in any high school 50 years ago at Berkeley High, was instrumental in helping him develop O’Dowd’s BSU. “That group gave rise to the African-American Studies and Black Nationalist Movements courses, BMAC (Brothers Making a Change), SOS (Sisters of Success) and the Gospel Choir,” Green said.
Marguerite with Kimberly Papillion
Judicial professor Kimberly Papillon ’87, an expert in neuroscience and fair decision-making in law, medicine, education and business, was among a group of students who approached the administration starting in 1985 requesting that they be allowed to form a BSU. The administration wasn’t yet comfortable with the idea of a BSU, but approved the formation of a Minority Students Concerns Group (MSCG), moderated by religion teacher Doug Vierra, which in essence served as a BSU, Latinos Unidos and Filipino Club.
“Mr. Vierra was very courageous in taking on this group, which was considered very controversial at the time,” Papillon said. “He was teaching a class called Church in the Black Community – the only course at O’Dowd then that was focused on African American studies, so he already had a kindred spirit with a lot of the students. They trusted him a great deal.”
It was a daunting endeavor for the students as well, said Papillon. “There were some people who said ‘Are you crazy? You could get in a lot of trouble’ for advocating for a BSU considering we were given clear signals that this was not something the administration favored,” she said. “But we weren’t fighting against the administration. We were trying to show them that having a BSU would be great.”
Added Papillon “The student advocacy and the foundation we laid with the MSCG to show how positive we were going to be – lifting up all the groups, exposing the cultural richness of the different communities at O’Dowd in ways that they hadn’t been exposed before, uniting with one another as opposed to trying to be negative in any respect – convinced the administration that this was going to be helpful, not hurtful, and that letting people expose their culture and celebrate their differences was just going to bring us that much closer together. And it worked.”
Today, Williams remains proud of the BSU’s continued impact on individual students and the O’Dowd community.
“At the time, I had no way of knowing that so many years later the BSU would still be standing and stronger than ever,” she said. “As an adult looking back on this I have to say that I am humbled because it was a legacy that was being set into motion and I didn’t even know it at the time.”
Added Williams, “Thirty years later, the group is still having such an amazing impact. I am proud of each generation that has taken up the mantle and kept it going. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next 30 years.”
Papillon is amazed that the Black History Month Assembly is still going strong after all these years. “You never think thatwhat you are doing in high school is going to make a difference. But the students who got together back then to create what are basically institutions at O’Dowd now (the Black History Month Assembly and BSU) made some real change,” she said.
In 2018, Papillon, a current O’Dowd parent, returned to campus as the guest speaker for the Black History Month Assembly. She explained how unconscious components of our brains drive our decision-making, and challenged students to be aware of implicit biases that can influence people on a daily basis and work towards awareness and change.
It’s clear to alumni that Tony Green (along with Marguerite Green) has impacted countless lives through BSU programming.
“The O’Dowd BSU positively impacted our school community by providing a safe space for us to express our ideas, feelings and even our views on current events, academics and campus life. Unity was a key component of our BSU. We were intentional about connecting with and learning from other people and clubs on campus. This intentionality opened us up to new ideas, different perspectives and amazing opportunities for personal growth,” Taylor said.
Alexis Stuckey ’10 said the BSU was critically influential in her development as a young woman and student. “I was able to fully be myself and engage with students and faculty that understood and accepted me. BSU was that safe space that allowed me to learn more about who I am and my history, and gave me the opportunity to educate my peers about my culture,” she said. “Because of all that I learned, and the relationships that I developed, I was able to confidently go on to college as a young Black woman.”
Added Stuckey, “It’s more than just a club, it is a family. Mr. and Mrs. Green provided us this experience, their knowledge, time, and their unconditional love at times when we felt like the word was against us. They are more than just O’Dowd faculty, they are pillars in our community that we look up to and love.”
Join us for a community presentation honoring Black History Month set for Saturday, March 2, from 6-9 p.m. in the large gymnasium.