Laila Harris is an OCS senior, and like other seniors, is in the thick of applying to colleges: researching, reviewing, and uploading applications and references. She is looking at several schools and hopes to major in biology, physiology, or kinesiology. One of the schools she is considering is Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Harris is also the president of the OCS Black Student Association and as such works with BSA students and Audie Diggs, Director of World Missions and Community Service, to plan the annual Black History Month community assembly. With Oaks Christian being a school and the BSA seniors also applying to college, it seemed a natural fit to focus on education, particularly historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Howard for the assembly’s theme.
“This is my third year serving in this position (BSA president), and as a senior, I wanted to make sure I educated my peers on the culture of HBCUs before I graduated. Celebrating Black History Month doesn't mean we only have to talk about historical events. We can share an impactful, current part of our culture as well,” she said.
The virtual assembly on Feb. 23 shared the history of HBCUs and black education in America; from days when slaves were whipped for learning how to read, through emancipation, the founding of the first HBCU (Cheyney University in Pennsylvania), to notable graduates of the more than 107 HBCUs today, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.(Morehouse College), Lionel Richie (Tuskegee University), and Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State).
Beloved traditions, events such as homecoming, marching bands, the “Black Super Bowl” between Grambling University and Southern University, and the impact of HBCUs on the American culture through pop culture and film were also highlighted.
Harris hopes the assembly was a value-add for all OCS students and an opportunity for the student body to learn something new.
“We hope students will learn exactly what an HBCU is and what it has to offer, that they will understand the foundations of HBCUs, the journey of black people and education, and the impact they have on our culture,” she said.
While the Black History Month assembly is an annual focal point of the BSA, Harris also shares the club is not just about that one event. Throughout the year, they hold weekly meetings, discussions, lessons, games, field trips, and cookouts to celebrate holidays and the end of a semester. This past year was their first celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in partnership with the OCS Hispanic Heritage Club (HHC).
“The club also encourages a culture of listening and learning so that people can hear stories. We also want to hear others' stories and we do that with discussions and events aimed towards other cultures,” she added. “It's also a myth that only Black students can join BSA. We have students of other races who are avid club members.”
As the BSA faculty adviser, Diggs hopes events such as the annual assembly can be learning moments about Black culture, but also touch points on God-honoring diversity that affirms the Imago Dei of all people.
“It is simple: God honoring diversity is when we begin to see all expressions of the image of God being celebrated and affirmed on an equal level that includes Black, Latino, Asian and Caucasian experiences. This is affirmed, celebrated, practiced and reflected by many Scriptures (Matthew 28, John 17, Revelation 7),” Diggs said.
“We can celebrate our diversity in such a way that Christ is glorified. We can engage in hard conversations; we can talk about the things that matter and we can love each other even if we don’t always agree. We can have a mindset that we don’t have to see eye- to- eye, but that we can and should see Christ 100 percent and invite all to the table of brotherhood and sisterhood in community,” he reflected.