NUTLEY, NJ — In the last year, Nutley for Black Lives has organized protests, educated the community on black culture and history, and worked with Nutley High School administrators and teachers to make changes for a more inclusive curriculum. The organization is also working on a new project: setting up scholarships to award to two black graduating NHS seniors this year. Organizers Aria Jennings, Catherine Pezo and AnneMarie Reisch, who are all NHS alumni, realized there were fewer scholarship options for area black students than their white classmates.
“There weren’t scholarships for black students,” Jennings, who graduated in 2020, said in a phone interview with the Nutley Journal on March 14. “Most of them are aimed at Italian American and Irish American students, which is great. They deserve them, too. But so do the black students.”
Each of the two scholarships consists of $750 to help a black student with post-NHS plans. Nutley for Black Lives is selling signs that read “Black Lives Still Matter,” and proceeds go to the scholarship fund. Residents can donate without receiving a sign, as well. So far more than $1,000 has been raised, and Jennings and the other organizers hope eventually to expand and award a scholarship to each black student at NHS.
There aren’t too many requirements: All students have to do to apply is tell the organization what their post-graduation plans are. The goal was to give a wider group of students a chance to receive financial assistance.
“We wanted to give them all a chance,” Jennings said. “If you don’t play a sport or aren’t as involved at school, you don’t qualify for a lot.”
The organization has met with the Nutley Board of Education a few times this year. BOE President Charlie Kucinski said in a phone interview with the Nutley Journal on March 16 that the board is hoping to meet with Nutley for Black Lives again.
“We met with them a couple of times,” he said. “We always encourage all graduates to push for scholarships for what they need. We hope to work with them more. It’s a good tool to get students financial help.”
Nutley for Black Lives is taking donations through PayPal with the username Nutley4BlackLives and through Zelle with the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Organizers can also be reached at www.facebook.com/nutleyforblacklives and will coordinate with donors who want a sign.
Creating these scholarships isn’t the only project that Jennings and her colleagues are working on. They’ve met with teachers from the NHS English department about making the curriculum more inclusive and palatable for everyone.
“We can’t just say, ‘Get teachers of color,’” Jennings said. “It’s not that easy. It also comes with teachers training and teaching them how to teach differently. We’re also working toward an anti-racism policy in the student handbook because there isn’t one yet. There are bullying policies, which can include it, but when it comes to racism it’s not the same.”
Working with the NHS staff has been going well, according to Jennings. They’ve been doing the same thing in the history department, another subject that needs to be overhauled in the way it teaches black history, according to Jennings.
“We all understand that everyone is learning,” Jennings said. “They’ve been great. If you wait around, it will never get done. That can’t happen anymore. We want to put action behind the things they say they stand for.”
Photos Courtesy of Nutley for Black Lives