Black Sisterhood: Dreams Forged Through Dance

Black Girls United is one of the student affinity clubs led by Longfellow Middle School’s Restorative Justice team and proudly supported by a LEARNING for Equity grant from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund. 

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“All – of – us – or – none – of – us,” shouted members of Longfellow Middle School’s Black Girls United (BGU) student club. More than 3 dozen middle schoolers crowded the bottom rows of the Longfellow auditorium earlier this winter during a special visit from the UC Berkeley’s all-Black Bearettes dance team. In unison, feet stomping in powerful rhythm, “All – of – us – or – none – of – us.”

The Cal Bearettes held the undivided attention of Longfellow’s Black Girls United students, many of whom themselves enjoy experimenting with choreography and doing their own TikTok dances. After a dazzling performance, the Bearettes offered up a ‘Question and Answer’ session to the middle schoolers who eagerly asked the scholar-dancers about the roots of their dance life and the challenges and successes of their college life. At one point, the Bearettes even invited some of the middle schoolers to take center stage and show off dance moves of their own!

But Who & What is Black Girls United? 

Led by Longfellow Restorative Justice Intern Tanisha Walton, Black Girls United is about creating a culture and climate of solidarity among black girls on campus. “It’s about empowering one another, having a safe space for each other, and having a place where we can be expressive and talk about issues that just relate to Black girls,” described Walton. “A lot of our society tells us that we are usually ‘othered,’ but this is the place where we can be seen and loved – where we belong.”

A Partnership is Born

Through a church connection, Walton met Skylynn Hayes, a 4th year Cal student who also manages UC Berkeley’s All-Black Bearette’s dance team. Hayes and Walton bonded quickly over their passion for youth development and soon, they hatched a plan for this Black girls-Black women gathering centered around dance. And yet both of them knew the lessons would reach far beyond fancy footwork.

Designed into the meet-up was a focus on teamwork and solidarity amongst Black sisters. Harkening back to the chant that kicked off the event, “All – of – us – or – none – of – us,” the Bearettes described to the BGU students how they have to work hard and remain dedicated to their team and their shared purpose. “There’s power in solidarity, in sisterhood,” described Hayes.  “What does it mean to be a friend? How do you work through miscommunication? How do you work through different personalities? All of these things,” she added, “are fundamental – especially, you know, during the ages of 12 to 14.”

And parallel to the many lessons on solidarity was an equally powerful lesson about Black representation on elite college campuses. “As much as the dancers are dedicated to each other and to their purpose, they are also dedicated to their representation on campus,” explained Hayes. “For younger girls in the surrounding communities who may come to Cal games, the dancers know that seeing Black representation in those spaces can change mindsets…It allows girls to say, ‘Oh, maybe I can go to a school like Cal. Even though it is a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), I don’t have to only go to a Southern school…There are places and spaces held for me on these campuses, should I be interested.’ ”

Uncovering Common Ground

And somewhere in the magic mix between dance and school, Cal and Longfellow, common ground was discovered and inspired new possibilities. “It’s so good for them to see what they can be,” professed Walton. “{The Bearettes} were middle schoolers just like them, girls who can go and apply and be at a school like Cal, and then come together in solidarity. It means the world for middle schoolers to see this.” 

Through intentional partnerships like this one, the Restorative Justice team at Longfellow Middle School is shrinking the distance between the little sisters who dream of great things and the big sisters who actualize it.