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Thomas Jefferson High School administration, teachers, and students gathered at the California African American Museum recently to celebrate its first awards banquet for student groups Sister Circle and Jefferson African American Male Academy of Leadership (JAAMAL).
Founded by Bobbi McDaniel, after a riot between Black and Latino students erupted on campus at Santee High School in 2005, Sister Circle was formed as support group for the Black female students who felt that their voices and concerns we not being heard or addressed.
McDaniel, at the time was an integral part of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission as an education policy advisor who had been deployed to assist in the efforts to bring calm back to the school. She remembers arriving on the scene at Santee Education Complex to find a group of African American girls confined by police to the library. Those same girls would be the first members of the Sister Circle.
The Sister Circle through the years has provided African American female students with a safe space to discuss issues not only related to their school but in their personal lives as well.
That year, there was little support for McDaniel or the Sister Circle at Santee, where African American students made up less than 7 percent of the student body.
In the fall of 2006, the then-principal of Thomas Jefferson High School Juan Flecha heard of McDaniel's work and Sister Circle and invited her to start the program at Jefferson High School, where it has been ever since.
Jefferson High School's current principal Michael Taft, has continued to support the Sister Circle and sees it as both a fundamental entity and a much-needed program for his African American students.
Similarly, Taft has shown the same support for Darrin Early and his JAAMAL group, which focuses on the African American male students at Jefferson.
JAAMAL began in 2006 as a collaboration between Bridge Builders Network and Jefferson High School.
Spearheaded by Flecha, and assistant principals Harriet Ware and Jeremy McDavid, JAAMAL was an effort to address the academic and social-emotional deficiencies facing the young men at Jefferson High School.
Initially conducted as a three-session workshop series, JAAMAL grew into a year-long program focusing on underachieving African American young men with academic and leadership potential.
As part of the program, young men are introduced to a variety of successful unsung heroes in African American history, participate in a series of character education and personal development workshops, attend leadership conferences and university field trips, are trained in financial literacy and receive instruction in study skills, writing and college preparatory testing.
Young men participating in this program are supported and challenged to develop in the areas of leadership, integrity and social/civic responsibility.
Together both the Sister Circle and JAAMAL are providing much-needed educational and emotional support for Jefferson High School's African American student body.
Among the honorees of the event was senior Nikki Scott, who received the Most Improved Personal and Academic Performance award. Scott, 18, has been accepted into California State University Dominguez Hills and will start there in the fall of 2012.
Other honorees include Arecella Gant with the Corporate Award for her support of the Sister Circle and JAAMAL through her position at Neutrogena, Arturo Pena, who received the Community Support award for his work while he served as acting director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and Juan Flecha, former Jefferson High principal, now area superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
For more information on the programs and to get involved, please call Bobbi McDaniel at (213) 216-3862.