Essence Jenkins


Essence Jenkins is a junior at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, New Jersey, where she is a chairwoman in the Black Student Union and serves as an activist for change at her predominantly white institution. She called her school to action, voicing the need for teachers who were more racially aware and educated on the topics they were speaking about. She challenged her school's outdated curriculum, stating that advancements needed to be made toward creating classwork that delved into both historical and contemporary Black subjects that take an active stride towards anti-racism. In her collaboration with the director of curriculum and administrators, sensitivity and professional development classes for faculty were added in her school system. The African American Studies elective course saw improvements as well. What was once a semester-long course is now on track to becoming a full-year course. She continually presses for more Black topics to be included in the curriculum. Essence continually pressed for more Black topics to be included in the curriculum because Black people are constantly put into environments where they are taught to hate their own Blackness; the standard curriculum is no exception, and therefore there is always room for reform. As a result of her efforts, her school's English and history curriculum now includes a wider focus on a broad variety of topics such as the Harlem Renaissance, cultural importance of names, and the acknowledgement of cultural linguistics detailing its significance. In addition, the Black Student Union was facing stability issues as a result of underfunding and zero support from her school's executives, and was left without an established room and advisor. Essence fought unapologetically for the continuation of the club and spoke directly to faculty and executives bringing light to the importance of Black Congregation in communities actively attempting to disregard them. As a result, the Black Student Union now has an advisor and a professional meeting room. She also raised funds for the club and for services to Black communities/organizations. The club, once nearly forgotten, has now received Kean University's "Joy Prescott Humanitarian Award." Essence's work in justice and Black empowerment will never end and she will at no time contain her voice made to make change.