Student View: FHS Alumna Works To Expand Audience For ‘Race, Gender and Equity’ Elective

Jada Bethea. Photo: Emma Richter.

Submitted by Emma Richter, FHS Class of 2018.

Someone I used to spend most of my time with at Franklin High School, running up and down the field hockey field with, rooting for each other on the sidelines, is also the same person who is standing up for change in Franklin right now.

Jada Bethea, a 2019 graduate from FHS, who has moved onto college at the art school of New York University Tisch, studying Film and T.V., has found a way to use her voice during not just a pandemic, but a civil rights movement in our nation. Bethea emphasized that she feels very strongly about educational reform, so much so that she created her very first petition by the name of “Prioritizing Racial Education at FHS” on change.org.

It’s in this petition that Jada concentrates on one specific class taught at Franklin High, the ‘Race, Gender and Equity’ course. Her goal for this petition is to draw attention to the fact that this elective course is only offered to juniors and seniors at FHS when she believes it should be a requirement for all grade levels at the high school.

Taking the course herself during her senior year, Bethea explained just how impactful the class was for her, even to this day.

“There were so many things that hit us like a truck, we had no idea,” she said.

Being a strong African American woman herself, Jada said she thought she knew about all of the inequalities and oppressions that her very own community faces, but after taking the class she realized just how much there still is to learn.

Not being able to attend Franklin Township’s local protests, due to the Coronavirus and her parent’s discretion, Jada knew she had to do something. Since her post of the petition a month ago, Bethea has accumulated 5,223 signatures, along with a multitude of comments from supporters in Franklin.

Being young and naive, she said she never thought her petition would get this much response, and she’s so grateful that it has. In her petition post, Jada went into great detail about her belief in this course as a requirement and exemplified those reasons even further to me.

“The biggest fuel factor of hate and racism is ignorance,” she said. “Not knowing black history, not knowing different inventions they have that were made by a black person.”

 The Race, Gender, and Equity course is taught by just one teacher at Franklin High School, Luma Hasan. Hasan is a U.S. History teacher, teaching honors levels and ESL levels, as well as this very elective that changed Jada’s view of the world around her.

In Hasan’s description of the class, she said, “The Race, Gender, and Equity course is really there to examine and break down the history of oppression in the United States, and also further throughout the world.”

Hasan said she loves teaching this course and loves it, even more, when her past students reach out to her and stay in touch. In fact, Jada had reached out to her old teacher just a few weeks prior to her petition post, getting her input and clarifications on the academic structure of social studies at FHS.

The class is currently only available to upperclassmen at FHS because a great level of understanding of our nation’s history is required to help the student understand the elective to the fullest extent. Through all of this though, Hasan said she believes that this class would benefit everyone, especially during the times that we’re in right now with the “Black Lives Matter” movement taking place.

Hasan went on to say, “I’m just thankful that I have this community of students, and I’m happy to keep supporting students like Jada and make sure their voices are heard.”

When asked if she is proud to be from Franklin Township, Bethea said that she is indeed very proud to be from our hometown. Once she left for college, she realized just how fortunate she was to have grown up in such a diverse community, as her new friends at school never truly got a taste of diversity growing up.

Like Jada, other past students of this course feel strongly in her petition. Kaitlyn Orsini, a graduate of the class of 2018 at FHS, who now majors in Government and Politics with a minor in Philosophy at St. John’s University, spoke very highly of the Race, Gender and Equity class.

“Ms. Hasan’s class was probably the most important class I took in high school- it was honest and most definitely eye-opening,” says Orsini.

Orsini said she signed Bethea’s petition proudly and attended both the protest at Franklin Middle School and Middlebush Park in June. She said she makes sure she remains educated on the topic of racial injustices, specifically in the Black community, and helps support her lifelong friends from Franklin that are directly affected by the inequalities and hate.

Another student, Julien Hector, who just recently graduated from Franklin High School in the class of 2020, is also a supporter of Bethea’s petition. With plans to attend American University in the fall, majoring in International Studies, Hector said the elective for which Jada is fighting was one that he will never forget.

“Knowing how to deal with different cultures and showing empathy for different cultures is something that’s inherited in me because of Franklin,” he said.

Julien is also a very good friend of Jada’s, and was on the planning committee for her petition, while also actively fighting for educational reform on racial injustices in Franklin Township himself. He, alongside Jada, has been attending meetings with the Franklin Township’s Board of Education, pushing for more educational opportunities for students to understand and learn about our countries oppression and history involving African Americans.

Bethea said she is nowhere near done with her plan to change the way Franklin High School, and the township in general, educate their students on racial oppression and a basic understanding of injustices. She said she plans on creating more petitions and is actively working on her next one. With her goal set on the change of education reform at Franklin High School, Jada claims that her first petition was just a “stepping stone” as she hopes to get involved with other schools in the township and New Jersey.

I wish I got to know Jada Bethea just a bit more back in high school, but all we have is now, and it goes without saying that Jada is on the move to make not just one change but changes across this town- our town.

If you haven’t already, check out her petition on change.org, and feel free to sign it, comment, and share. Voices can only be heard if we make them loud enough, and together we can work as one town to change the outcome of the future for our neighbors, best friends, and past teammates.

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