As high school seniors, Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau launched a campaign last January that placed the racism faced by black students at Boston Latin School in the spotlight. Their advocacy has since been honored by the Harvard College Women’s Center and The Boston Globe.
Webster-Cazeau, now a freshman at Temple University, was featured in the university publication The Temple News this week, and she reflected on the experiences that led to the #BlackatBLS campaign.
“It got really graphic,” Webster-Cazeau said of the racism she and fellow black BLS students encountered. She and Noel belonged to the school’s organization Black Leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge, or BLS BLACK, which Noel presided over.
“Students telling other students, ‘Go back to Africa,’ or ‘We should have never bought you’ or students telling other students that if they were at the protests, they would’ve shot them,” she said.
The aforementioned remarks and a number of tweets ― which included callous reactions to the 2014 killing of Michael Brown ― moved best friends Webster-Cazeau and Noel to action. And like anyone on a quest for justice, the two kept receipts of their peers’ wrongdoings. They printed out around 25 tweets that evidenced the toxic racism of their peers and showed them to their headmaster in the fall of 2014.
After a year and a half of inaction by the administration, Webster-Cazeau and Noel launched #BlackatBLS in January 2016. To kick off the campaign, the two made a video ― which now has over 30,000 views ― that encouraged others to join them in bringing attention to the school’s racism and pushing the BLS administration to create a better environment for black students.
The video led to the trending #BlackatBLS hashtag, which other students used to share their experiences with racism at the school. One BLS student’s headline-making interaction with a teacher just two months after the campaign took off further illustrated the reality of being a black student at the school. This incident and a May video update from BLS BLACK indicated that no social progress was made in the school.
But the campaign did lead to an investigation of the school by Boston Public Schools, as well as a citywide discussion on race that culminated in the resignation of the school’s headmaster, Lynne Mooney Teta, in June.
Just last week, the school appointed a new headmaster ― who happens to be a black woman and BLS’s first headmaster of color.
The two have received recognition throughout the year for #BlackatBLS, including being chosen as the 2016 Bostonians of the Year by The Boston Globe and being awarded an honorable mention from The Harvard College Women’s Center.
“It kind of felt surreal,” Webster-Cazeau said of hearing about the Boston Globe award. “It was this thing that blew up and everyone kept texting and calling and congratulating me, but it never really felt real.”
Webster-Cazeau told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that while she keeps in contact with students who may be experiencing the same things she and Noel have and gives them advice, she isn’t as actively involved with #BlackatBLS.
“I’ve somewhat stepped back from the movement and let the students who are still at BLS take over, because they’re there every day living with the changes,” Webster-Cazeau said.
Webster-Cazeau told The Temple News that the university’s diversity has been uplifting. Noel now attends Spelman College, a historically black women’s liberal arts institution. The two continue to be besties and stay up-to-date on matters of racial justice.