Kennedy Musgrave, 18, of Nashville, Tennessee, and a senior at Hillsboro High School, plans and coordinates semi-monthly meetings and other activities at her school to provide encouragement and support to fellow black students who are enrolled, or planning to enroll, in the challenging International Baccalaureate program. Over the course of Kennedy’s time at Hillsboro High, the number of African-American students in her class pursuing an IB diploma dropped by more than 90 percent, from more than 50 her freshman year to just four who will graduate this year. “This wasn’t because of how challenging the classes were,” she said. Rather, it stemmed from a perception that IB courses are primarily for white students, and “an implicit bias that sets lower expectations for black students and discourages them from pursuing advanced academics.” Though Kennedy, too, found her involvement in the IB program isolating and mentally draining, she persevered and felt an obligation to assist others. “I did not want them to experience the isolation and questioning of self-worth that I had experienced,” she said.
Kennedy conceived a program called “IB Achievers,” and hosted a four-hour orientation session to explain it to black students and their parents. Then she began conducting meetings twice a month to encourage the pursuit of an IB diploma, deal with hardships faced by minority students, and celebrate the students’ accomplishments. For one of the meetings each month, Kennedy invites black professionals to speak about how they overcame barriers to become successful. The other meeting addresses topics such as study skills, time management, building relationships with teachers, preparing for exams, and planning for college. Kennedy also organizes quarterly social activities to promote balance between studies and fun. “IB Achievers is more than just a program,” said Kennedy. “It’s a sign of hope that our generation has a light that will not be dimmed and a voice that will be heard.”