Arcadia High’s African American Student Union (AASU) recently won the East Valley NAACP’s Next Generation Change Agents Award, which recognizes a high school or college group working toward making positive changes in their community.
AASU strives to provide an opportunity for all AHS students to learn more about diversity and African American culture.
AASU President, senior Kadin Beler, leads weekly meetings during which a wide variety of issues pertinent to student life at Arcadia are discussed. Additionally, AASU takes several field trips throughout the year to visit places such as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Fair in September and the MLK Voices event at Saguaro High School. On campus, the club hosts its biggest event, the Black History Festival, during Black History Month in February.
“The club to me is like a big, happy family,” said junior Sally Mengestu, who serves as club secretary. “It’s a place that I feel safe and at home. They give me the opportunity to talk about the issues we see and face, to make new friends and surround myself with people that look like me.”
Four years ago, students Mekhi Beler, Cammeron Clark, Mykala Brown and Marq Wilkerson asked social studies teacher Shannon Paloma if she would help them start the club, with the idea of helping African American students connect with each other and with other AHS students. The fact that AASU has grown to become the largest club on campus, with 60 members, proves their instincts were correct.
“It is truly amazing to see how far we’ve come. We have gotten stronger over the years and it’s awesome to see how much love and support has come out of this,” said Mekhi Beler, founding member and first club president. “Starting from our small group of four in Mrs. Paloma’s classroom, it’s crazy to see how much of a difference we’ve made.”
Paloma says that the positive interactions she sees between the student members shows that the club is filling a need at the school.
“As Arcadia has become more diverse, it became clear that there was truly a need for this type of club. Students care for each other, uplift and support each other, and challenge each other to bring about positive change. I love everything I do as a teacher, but this club holds a very special place in my heart,” Paloma said.
Group members were actually unaware that they were being considered for the prestigious award, which is the only NAACP award presented to a group of students. The group’s excitement was obvious and they stated they were honored to earn this achievement.
The Black History Festival, presence on campus and overall commitment to cultural appreciation has made them shine in the Arcadia community. The honor was presented at the East Valley NAACP Annual Freedom Funds Awards on October 12 at the Tempe Center for the Arts.