By Ruby Paarlberg and Sophie Steinberg
During mid-winter break, as students were waiting on airport lines and sleeping in, BSU members were promoting their upcoming “BSU Cares Coat Drive” all over Instagram. When we got back to school, Beacon’s Black Student Union, otherwise known as BSU, began a coat drive in the lobby. Their efforts culminated in a school-wide effort to support those in need which garnered over 70 items of clothing.
BSU is an amazing club that provides a space for Black students at Beacon to join forces to discuss race at Beacon as well as celebrate Black culture and pride. In addition to their weekly meetings, the club hosts an annual Black History Show, which is often the highlight of February at Beacon. As a whole, their work and presence at Beacon helps create a safe space for black students and serves as inspiration for other social justice clubs and student unions.
Even though BSU hosts numerous events and community discussions, Club Leader Oumy Souane said that BSU tries to do charity work every year. Another club leader and senior Naiima Miller had the idea while talking to her mother. When she tried to throw away an old coat, her mother “suggested that they hosted a coat drive instead.” Collectively, the club realized that hosting a coat drive would be a relatively simple and easy way to help those in need as people “always have extra things that they can give away.”
Coats and clothing from the drive are being donated to the Covenant House which is a center for homeless and at-risk youth that offers “housing and support services to young people in need.” Founded in New York, the Covenant House has expanded to 31 cities across America and houses, on average, 1,920 youth every night. They also have a location called the Covenant House Casa Alianza in Nicaragua that helps prevent sex-trafficking and works to raise kids out of poverty. BSU’s work is contributing to a global non-profit right around the corner on West 41st Street.
Specifically, The Covenant House’s direct work with teenagers was a perfect example of the “bubble” in which Beacon exists. Most kids at Beacon walk to school thoroughly bundled up in recent twenty-degree weather without a second thought, but BSU wanted to encourage Beacon students to use their privilege for a cause that was relevant to our generation and New York City as a whole. Naiima noted that there “are kids down the street that don’t have a coat or a house to go home to. They’re out there, in this 23 degree weather.” She also mentions that our coats, being teenage-sized, would not have “fit a 5 year-old” so the choice to work with The Covenant House was also practical.
Coat Drives are often overlooked, but during the winter time, they are especially important. Many New Yorkers have to brave consecutive winters without winter coats. BSU’s Coat Drive will truly make a difference and give more people a much-needed way to stay warm. Furthermore, efforts to aid the homeless are often most profound in the form of drives for necessary, and hardly accessible, items such as baby products, clothes, food, and tampons and pads. Club leader Oumy Souane says that as “teenagers going through the college process, we have grades to worry about, so if we can make somebody’s life a little bit easier, why shouldn’t we do it?”
In addition to BSU, the organization, New York Cares, ran their 30th annual coat drive this year. New York Cares is a nonprofit organization that manages volunteers citywide. This incredible program has an average of “65,000 volunteers in service each year.” The hundreds of thousands of winter coats collected in this annual Coat Drive are distributed to “public schools, religious institutions, and transitional housing shelters – all of which serve some of our city’s most vulnerable populations.” Every year New York City endures harsh winters and efforts from both New York Cares and BSU to collect and donate coats are admirable and necessary.
All around, the Coat Drive was a group effort, with much of its presence being owed to social media. The drive was first made known by BSU member InstaStories and even went on to be reposted by other Beacon students. Senior and club member Fatou Ndiaye said it was “empowering to see how we could really make a change and get things done” as members put up posters all over the school. Oumy says that social media was integral to spreading their message as people used the poster graphic on their Instagram to let people know. The poster seemed to go “viral” amongst Beacon students. She continues, noting that they would love to make the BSU Cares Coat Drive an annual event as they wish to “set the trend for the future of the club.” As coats are often taken for granted as basic necessities, Oumy believes that “there is always something you can do to help your community” and that it is not that hard to “do the research and have ideas” on ways to contribute.
BSU’s work is a perfect example of the good Beacon students can do when they put all hands on deck, online and in real life. Their success shows that social media can be a helpful tool for clubs, with fundraising and community service especially. At the end of our interview, Fatou, Naiima, and Oumy all agree that a perfect way to sign off of their discussion would be with the hashtag, “#MakeTheWorldaWarmerPlace,” and BSU is doing just that.