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Bayview students fight for healthier food options

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The Black Student Union at Willie Brown Middle School won first place in the statewide Black Minds Matter competition for Good Eats Unwrapped, a report that focuses on unhealthy eating habits among students. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Bayview District students’ efforts to address junk food consumption at their school last month resulted in a protest outside a local corner store, a healthier lunch menu at their school and a first place trophy.

Members of the Black Student Union at Willie Brown Middle School recently received an award for finding solutions to what they identified as a critical issue: unhealthy eating habits among students perpetuated by a corner store directly across the street from the Bayview school.

“We are in a food desert,” said eighth grader Elijah Brown, 13, who is a member of the BSU. “That means we have a bunch of liquor stores around and not a lot of grocery stores.”

With the mentorship of several instructors at Willie Brown, the students spent the better part of three weeks at the start of the school year researching the effects that junk food has on their school community.

The result was Good Eats Unwrapped, a report that won the students first place on Jan. 20 and a cash prize in the statewide Black Minds Matter competition, hosted by the Black Students of California United, an organization set on establishing skills for self-determination and achievement for African American middle and high school students in California.

“Positive decision making is such a tool that students need to have in their arsenal to be successful here,” said Willie Brown teacher Ronson Muhammad, who led the BSU through the competition. “We are empowering students to be advocates for their community and have conversations that don’t happen in traditional school environments.”

Members of the Black Student Union at Willie Brown Middle School pose for a portrait with teachers Tachelle Heron, left, and Ronson Muhammad at the Bayview school on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

In preparation for the competition, the students gave up their lunch periods to meet with their administrators, counselors, cafeteria staff and school nutritionists. They also surveyed over half of the schools’ some 360 students about their eating habits.

Among the BSU’s discoveries was the negative impact of a local corner store.

“Our food at school is pretty healthy, but people don’t eat lunch at school because they think it’s nasty,” said eighth grader Eziyah Wilson, 13.

Instead of opting for healthy lunches offered in the school’s cafeteria, Brown said that many of his classmates are drawn to the corner store.

“Our kids go there in the morning before school starts and when they are late, the first place they run to is not the school, but the corner store,” said Principal Charleston Brown. “It is an issue.”

The BSU students launched an educational campaign about the impact of junk food on academic performance that included a protest outside of the corner store.

“We blocked anybody from coming in and out,,” said sixth grader Sincere Bryant, 12. “People were interested in what we were doing. I felt good about it because at least I’m helping my community.”

The competition required participants to implement solutions at their schools. At Willie Brown, the BSU members instated a “healthy choice” menu, which allows the school’s students to add healthy food suggestions to the school’s monthly lunch menu.

Following the BSU’s report, the school also provided students with fruit juices as an alternative to soda drinks.

Brown, the principal, said that the students work was “a big first step” in building a “productive relationship” with the corner store.

“Eventually we want to see if we can curb some of the things that [the owners] are selling our kids,” he said.

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