| Rockford Register Star
Video: Guilford High Schooler uses TikTok to celebrate Black History Month
Kawaia Jackson of Guilford High School organized the #GHSBackInTime event to celebrate Black History Month on February 26, 2021.
Scott P. Yates, Rockford Register Star
ROCKFORD — For her final Black History Month announcement Friday afternoon, Guilford High School sophomore Kawaia Jackson shared the empowering words of civil rights and women’s rights activist Dorothy Height.
“I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom,” the 15-year-old read over the schoolwide audio system. “I want to be remembered as one who tried.”
And then, as if she was taking a cue from the longtime former president of the National Council of Negro Women herself, Jackson added her own conclusion to the announcement.
After saying a tongue-in-cheek farewell to Black excellence because the month was coming to a close, the high schooler urged her fellow students to embrace the importance of Black history every day of the year.
“What if I told you that Black Lives Matter every day of the year?” Jackson said. “What if I told you Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Emmett Till and Rodney King’s lives mattered every month of their lives? … It is time to have courage. Not tomorrow, today. So stand up with me. Raise a fist, and here’s to a lifetime of Black excellence.”
Jackson then went to the school’s commons area where she met up with fellow students and Guilford staff and recorded a video for the school’s Black History Month ’90’s throwback TikTok challenge.
They did the Cha Cha Slide.
All month Jackson, along with some of her fellow students and Guilford educators, has been working to increase knowledge of and participation in Black History Month activities.
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For assistant principal Willie Boyd, the students’ ideas and engagement has made all the difference.
“It’s been really awesome to have the voice of the students involved in all of the stuff we have going on,” Boyd said. “Kawaia and Nasir (Mubarak) have been excellent student leaders. It’s been great. I’m loving it, and I hope we can keep it going.”
Mubarak was in one of the school’s first TikTok challenge videos. He recorded it with Jackson last week and posted it Friday morning. The duo modeled ’90s inspired fashion and set their looks to music.
“We wore a bunch of retro outfits. That was fun,” Mubarak said of the video. “I feel like in my four years here, this is the most we’ve ever done for Black History Month. It’s been implemented all over. There has been discussion and presence.”
Mubarak said one of his friends even got to make a slideshow presentation for class about an inspirational Black figure in history.
“I’m very proud of the way we constructed this this year,” Jackson said. “We really put our effort into this. Past years, I don’t remember anything that happened. But this year, I will never forget.”
Raising the profile and participation in Guilford’s Black History Month is important, Jackson said, because it helps her fellow Black students feel like they belong at the school and, more importantly, that school is a safe place for them to speak up and speak out.
“The feeling of helplessness doesn’t sit well with me. Seeing my people going through the system and not being treated well or not having an equal opportunity doesn’t sit well with me,” Jackson said. “I just really want to fight for them. Sometimes, I tear up crying about the things I see them go through. I just want everything to be equitable.”
Jackson and Mubarak are both on Guilford’s new Equity Team, a student and staff initiative created to assist the school in addressing complex issues involving race and systemic barriers to success.
The 1,847 students that attend Guilford High School are 39% white, 25% Black and 25% Hispanic. Rockford Public Schools teachers are 86% white, 4% Black and 4% Hispanic.
“We are starting to tackle a very uncomfortable topic,” Principal Gus Carter said. “We’ve been meeting twice a month. We’ve been spending a lot of time listening to each other and creating a space where people can express themselves openly.”
After several months of meeting, Carter said, the group is getting ready to take next steps.
“We’re talking about race and racial tensions and the barriers system create and how we can remove them,” he said. “We’re talking about going from polite conversations to more challenging discussions where we can ask questions that dig deeper.”
The Equity Team at Guilford is part of a districtwide initiative, Carter said. All of the schools will be taking on similar challenges regarding race and equity in their own way.