BLMNH co-founders Sy Frasier and Sun Queen standing besides volunteer members from Mu Sigma Upsilon, Sigma Lambda Upsilon, Lambda Alpha Upsilon and Lambda Upsilon Lambda. Abiba Biao Photos.
London Leake has spent all summer ready to dive into fourth grade writing classes at Spring Glen School. Now, she’s doing it with a new yellow bookbag —and a matching burst of self-confidence—in tow.
Last Sunday, London was one of 200 New Haven, Hamden, and West Haven students to come through Black Lives Matter New Haven’s (BLMNH) seventh annual school supply drive, run with help from Greek groups Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority, Sigma Lambda Upsilon Sorority, and Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity.
The event started at one on Edgewood Avenue and Brownell Street, and lasted for hours, welcoming families with book bags and school supplies for the new school year. BLMNH co-founder Sun Queen, who has led organizing efforts for years, said that events like the drive are meant to ease the burden of a new school year, which can quickly become expensive for parents.
“Not only does it help the youth here and also help their parents, you know, take away some of the burden, frustration and stress of buying supplies,” she said. “Everything has gone up and so this is one way we can relieve some of the stress off the parents.”
This year, BLMNH had over 400 school bags to distribute. Organizers packed 360 of those bags themselves; the rest came from donations that people dropped off. It represents a steady growth of the event, which started with 100 bags in 2015. Now, BLMNH reliably provides over 200 bags each drive. The largest number of bags the group has distributed is 1,500, when the drive took place just months into the Covid-19 pandemic in summer 2020.
“You know, we didn't think we could do that, because like Sun said we started off with 100 bags, and we surpassed that and we did these amazing amount of numbers,” fellow BLMNH Co-Founder Sy Frasier said.
Joaquim Buskey. “I’m getting better every time I go to a different grade,” he said.
For hours, students delighted in back-to-school bookbag joy. Joaquim Buskey, an incoming fourth grader at Saint Lawrence School in West Haven, said he’s excited to jump into a new curriculum and have new teachers and classmates. As he chatted eagerly, he fitted a new red backpack over his bright red shirt, the colors melting into each other.
His favorite subject is math, he said, especially multiplication. When he looks at a problem, there’s “so much to explore,” he said. He attributed his curiosity in the subject with being able to see his gradual progression and mastery of it.
“I’m getting better every time I go to a different grade, every time I go to a different subject,” he said.
Smiling with the glow of a new backpack and supplies, Joaquim urged anyone struggling with math to seek outside resources and help.
“Ask a teacher or a parent or someone you know to help you,” he said. “You’re not going to get anywhere if no one teaches you and no one helps because you’re going to have to learn. You can’t just come out and know everything.”
Chamere Carpenter and London Leake.
Chamere Carpenter, an incoming third grader at Highville Charter School in New Haven, and London Leake, a rising fourth grader at Spring Glen School in Hamden, were also enjoying the festivities of the school supplies drive. London said she liked the school supplies drive because she wanted a cute bookbag and a chance to play at the park. Chamere enjoyed the free snacks.
This school year, London will move up the upper floor of her school—something she’s looked forward to for years, she said. Her favorite subject is writing, which she enjoys as a creative outlet. She especially likes writing about herself and past experiences, she said.
Similar to Joaquim, Chamere's favorite subject is math because she likes doing basic operations such as multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. “I can do four times eight,” she said and stopped, murmuring to herself and counting on her fingers before blurting out “sixteen!” with a smile.
Yashaira Leguisamon, president of Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority, Inc.
In addition to organizers from BLMNH, other groups jumped in to help this year. A New Havener and member of UConn’s Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority, Yashaira Leguisamon said she wanted to give back to her community—and so she rallied her sisters to provide volunteer service. Before Sunday, she brought together service-oriented Greek groups Sigma Lambda Upsilon and Lambda Alpha Upsilon from UConn and New York Greeks Lambda Upsilon Lambda.
In addition to events like the backpack drive, Mu Sigma Upsilon is serving the NAACP this year, while Sigma Lambda Upsilon specializes in reading and literacy support.
Leguisamon said her interest to help with the school supplies drive stemmed from attending the same kind of event as a kid, when her family didn’t have the means to get school supplies.
“You shouldn't be stressed about if you're going to have school supplies or if you're going to have something for the next day or when you go to school that you're the only one that doesn't have,” she said. “Things like this is really important to make sure that people feel united and feel welcome.”
BLMNH co-founder Sun Queen helping a student select her snack.
This year as in past years, the bookbags contain a variety of essential items that are on school supply lists such as pencils, loose leaf paper, binders, notebooks and glue sticks. There are also sanitation items such as hand wipes, masks, and sanitizer for schools following Covid-19 safety measures.
“My favorite part, honestly, is just the smiles on the kids' faces," Sun Queen said. "You know, it's just like they get to choose their bookbag right. They're happy about it. So that gives them ... their own power to like say, ‘Hey, you know, I want this book bag for the whole school year or half the school year.'"
Learn more about Black Lives Matter New Haven (BLMNH) here. Abiba Biao is a graduate of the Arts Council's Youth Arts Journalism Initiative and has stayed on with the Arts Paper as a freelance writer and photographer. She is beginning her freshman year at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) this fall.