Brian Copeland Shares His Story with Students at Amador Valley High School (AVHS)
Comedian and author discusses race and personal identity at AVHS
By Nicole Zhang / Amador Student SEED Leader
Last school year, SEED students invited Brian Copeland, a well known Bay Area personality, stand-up comedian, host of KGO radio’s "The Brian Copeland Show," playwright, and author of the book Not a Genuine Black Man, to be a guest speaker at Amador Valley High School on November 19, 2015.
In an effort to build the capacity for a more equitable curriculum, campus, and community, the Student SEED Leader, Nicole Zhang, invited Copeland to her high school and organized the event with support from SEED students, the Student SEED advisor, Mr. Doyle, school administration, and the Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD).
Approximately 200 students representing classes, clubs, and groups on campus including Student SEED, the Social Justice classes, the BSU (Black Student Union), the Amador Valley Latino Club, the Ethics Club, the Arts & Media Academy and the Art classes attended the event. Mr. Jim Hansen, former Interim Superintendent of the PUSD, and Dr. Odie Douglas, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services of the PUSD, attended the event to show support.
Copeland shared his stories and experiences growing up as an African American in San Leandro during the early 1970s when the city was 99.99% white and considered one of the most racist enclaves in the nation. Copeland discussed race and personal identity, telling students, “At some point in your life, you will be the only one. The only man, the only woman. The only Christian, the only Jew.” He challenged students to find their own identity and allow other students the right to do the same.
When sharing his childhood memories, Copeland recounted being eight years old and forced into the backseat of a police car for walking to the park with a baseball bat in hand. He also spoke of his mother’s resilience to stay in their community even though residents tried to force them out. Copeland said, “I believe you have the right to live anywhere you want to live if you can afford it and if you’re going to be a good citizen.” After his presentation, Copeland hosted a Q & A session with the students and signed books.
Thanks to the support from Amador’s former principal, Dr. Tom Drescher, and a generous grant from the school’s PTSA, SEED students were able to purchase 100 copies of Not a Genuine Black Man to distribute to students who attended the event. The books are now accessible to all students at the Amador Valley High School library, Foothill High School library, Village High School, and the Pleasanton Public Library.
Students and teachers were eager to share their thoughts after the event. “With his firsthand account, he helped me understand how racism is a cycle that is perpetuated by our inability to notice it in ourselves,” said Mr. Pagtakhan, a Social Justice teacher at Amador. “We have no problem detecting the slightest hints of racism in others, but until we can be more aware of it in our own thinking, the conflicts we see in our country and around the world will continue.”
The President of Amador’s BSU club said, “One thing that I wish those who attended the event will take away is that racism is still a prevalent thing… I just want awareness and education to spread on the topic of racial and minority group issues and for everyone to try and understand each other and not rely on preconceived notions of a group of people.”
The Pleasanton Weekly published an article on this event titled "Comedian discusses life story, identity with equal-rights focused students at Amador Valley."
“My greatest wish is for students to not only have gained a new perspective after hearing Mr. Copeland's experiences, but to also be inspired and motivated to ensure that all students feel safe and accepted both on and off campus,” said the event organizer, Nicole Zhang. “The vision of the Pleasanton Unified School District is that every student will be a resourceful, resilient, responsible, and engaged world citizen. In order for us, as students, to be engaged world citizens, I think it is important we recognize the different challenges that individuals in our community face on a day-to-day basis.”
This event was clearly one big step forward in the right direction.