Charity Iromuanya ‘22E didn’t peak in high school. She started on the varsity basketball team all four years for Lincoln Northeast, won a state championship as a junior and placed second senior year. But she didn’t peak.
No, Charity is still on the rise.
In May, she earned her second master’s degree and wrapped up her third year as a basketball coach and second year as a high school counselor at her alma mater. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University at Albany, a Master of Science in youth development from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and most recently, a Master of Education in School Counseling from Doane University.
Her student experience as a Rocket was so memorable and positive she wanted to return the favor to current Rockets.
A school serves its students, Charity says. Students can — and should — graduate having accomplished everything they wanted to. Opportunities taken. Paths paved. The juice is always worth the squeeze.
But as a Black woman, the effort isn’t so effortless. Historically and presentally, the support for non-white students isn’t the same. Self-doubt is a natural byproduct, if not a subconscious belief rehashed since birth.
“It can cause you to not trust people,” Charity said. “It can cause you to feel like, ‘I’m not safe in this space.’”
Northeast’s student population in the ‘20-‘21 school year was 61.6% white (fourth highest out of six Lincoln high schools) and 9.2% Black (second highest out of six Lincoln high schools).
Of administrators, 93.8% were white and 1.7% were Black. Of teachers 93.1% were white and 1.2% were Black. And of other certified employees, which includes counselors, nurses, speech pathologists, etc., 95.3% were white and 1.6% were Black.
Black students, among other non-white ethnic groups, rarely see someone who looks like them when they walk down the brick-walled and tile-floored hallways.
“It’s hard,” Charity said. “Even for me as an adult, I struggle with walking in and not having colleagues that have any sort of diversity or color, because it can make you feel like you’re on an island sometimes.”
Charity recalls the lack of Black counselors in her own LPS education from Clinton Elementary to Northeast. She didn’t have a single one.
“When we lack diversity in our staffing, not everyone feels comfortable speaking or talking about the different experiences they may have in their classrooms,” Charity said.
“A lot of times, they internalize it, because they don't have that person they can speak to about it, or that they feel safe or comfortable speaking to about it.”
When Charity stands in the hallway during passing period, students mistake her for a peer. (In their defense she is pretty hip.) Or think she’s an outside partner coming to talk to them about scholarships.
Their shock upon realization immediately jolts into excitement.
Now imagine the excitement when they learn Charity, a counselor who looks like them, also created a group for Black and other diverse female students as a safe, supportive space. A space where inclusion leads to involvement.
With the help and support of now-retired LPS counselor Dr. Dolores Simpson-Kirkland, associate principal Darla Berks and principal Keri Applebee, Charity started Sisters’ Circle.
Born out of an internship requirement for her Master of Education in School Counseling from Doane University to create a group that bridges the gap between school data, the group quickly found its footing as something much more sustainable.
Sisters’ Circle meet once a month during third period. Members ranged in ethnicity and involvement. Black, student council, ROTC, athletics, freshmen through seniors. Numbers fluctuated over the course of the year but at the end of the year, the group sat at about 22 students.
During the monthly meetings, Charity broaches the group with a theme that’s at once a common teenage existential topic and a deeper conversation starter on overwriting unconscious, programmed beliefs.
How can you better represent Black History Month in your school? How do you find ‘your place’ in the building? What do you want your legacy to be?
“I walk away feeling empowered by them,” Charity said. “Like, ‘Wow, what she just said was amazing. What she just said was amazing.’ I’m always in awe of them and how wise they are at such a young age, as well.”
Jodie Green, Director of Doane’s Master of Education School Counseling program and also Charity’s advisor, felt the same way about Charity after observing one of the monthly meetings.
The best group facilitators don’t lead, Jodie said. They prompt, occasionally provide feedback, but ultimately let the members, in this case the students, own the conversation.
It’s this piece of autonomy that allows the girls to open up and discover similarities. It’s the layer beneath seeing someone who looks like you. Talking to someone who’s experienced what you once thought isolated you.
“All of us have encountered discrimination and racism in some form, whether it was in the building or in our communities or just something that our parents experienced at work,” Charity said.
She even recalls times as a student when she “should have advocated or used my voice more” and instead “internalized it and just kept going.”
“I really wanted to create a group where they trust each other. And that they felt comfortable enough to share those experiences and share what they’ve gained and share their insight and their success amongst each other.”
With each other, and beyond. Chalk it up to the success of Sisters’ Circle that the girls have taken the initiative to invite incoming Black female freshmen.
They wrote a letter for Charity to hand out at middle school registration nights.
We know going to high school might be very scary and overwhelming,” the letter starts. “But here at Lincoln Northeast High School you have lots of support to help you be successful…”
Charity might’ve taught the girls a thing or two about advocating for themselves. Jodie noticed this when Charity first approached her, remember the director, about at the start of her master’s program.
She wanted to know how to become a school counselor. Eventually, Jodie became her advisor, “phenomenal resource and mentor” and suggested connections at LPS to talk to. Only, Charity already talked to the right names at LPS.
“I mean, talk about knowing how to advocate,” Jodie said. “And that was a big piece, I think, of what she taught those kids in Sisters’ Circle is that you can make a difference. And through her own role modeling she demonstrated that for them. So yeah, she doesn’t let grass grow underneath her feet.”
Sisters’ Circle legacy is in draft mode. The current sisters will lead next year’s ninth grade group. Charity wants to expand their leadership efforts into the community, and is figuring what those opportunities are, such as volunteering at middle schools.
As for her own legacy, she takes a page from the Sisters’ Circle handbook and shares her experience in Doane’s master’s program with people of color and her own social circle in hopes they join.
“In closing, here are a few words of advice from our Sisters’ Circle: be yourself and be who you want to be, but stay away from drama. Keep the friends who push you to do better. In your classes, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Join athletics and clubs, but remember that academics come first. Lastly, dream big, then share those dreams with others.”
Your Sisters’ Circle