On a sunny Saturday morning, a group of girls and their mentor are enjoying a moment of leisure at Monastery Beach in Carmel. They are laughing and eating breakfast burritos, then sensing the rhythmic crash of waves during a meditation session.
They are members of the Black Girl Magic Club, a group started in 2019 at Rancho San Juan High School in Salinas by teacher Jordana Henry. Being surrounded by other people who look like you and face the same challenges is common for many. But it’s not always so for Black people in Monterey County, where they comprise 2 percent of the population.
“We don’t have a lot of Black people around, so I feel like this is a great way to connect us all and to gather our opinions,” Rosaline Ayozie says, adding that the club is a great platform to share thoughts and experiences with people who understand what the other is going through.
There are jabs – classmates joking about curly hair – and more nuanced emotions, such as feeling invalidated when others water down their struggles or question their identity. Henry is one of the few Black teachers in Salinas Union High School District and she says through her life she has experienced microaggressions. She started the club because she wanted the students to feel heard and validated.
Kaleena Easley says the club gives her a sense of belonging: “We could all relate to each other in a positive way.” Growing up in a largely Latino community, she was slighted by other kids because of the color of her skin (too light), her hair (too curly), or her style. “I like to feel like I’m around people who are like me,” she says.
The club started as a small gathering during lunch time and now it has grown to 15-20 girls who meet twice a month, once virtually and once in person, and follows a structured program.
During their monthly Wednesday virtual meeting, the girls start with positive affirmations followed by defining Black girl magic. Then they discuss a Black woman who demonstrates this magic – someone like Simone Biles, who demonstrated courage when she decided to put her mental health first rather than trying for a gold medal. They also talk about prominent Black women, such as aerospace engineer Mary Winston Jackson, activist Angela Davis and poet Mary Nikki Giovanni. They listen to uplifting music and discuss books. In their in-person sessions they engage in recreational activities such as painting, meditation or puzzles. When the pandemic hit, the club stayed strong. Meeting virtually made it easier, and they opened membership to all Black girls within SUHSD.
The Black Girl Magic Club became more widely known during an Aug. 24 SUHSD board meeting when several members confidently condemned racist acts that shocked the community. Several students had posed with a Black doll that was toted around, caricatured and mutilated during the Salinas High Jamboree on Aug. 20.
“That [incident] took a toll on me, but there was a lot of strength that came out of it for me because I had Miss Henry and I had a whole bunch of other girls that spoke with me at the board meeting,” Nevaeh Drummer says. “I was just very thankful about that.”
Some positives emerged from this, as the club recruited several new members during the board meeting. “That was great for them to make that connection so they can support their sisters at other sites,” Henry says.
Both the members and Henry describe the club as a safe space. Henry says there are topics she feels more comfortable talking about in the club than in her own classroom (which she also considers a safe place). “This group gave me even more of a sense of comfort. Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of versions of my younger self,” she explains.
Naia Hobson says being in the club has lifted her up. “It’s kind of like a smaller community,” she says. “This has honestly been one of the best clubs that I’ve ever been in.”