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Thomas Jefferson High School's Black Student Union head is white

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It’s an interesting and controversial move: a white student was elected to become the president of the Black Student Union at Fairfax County magnet school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, The Washington Post reported.

Black Student Union leader at TJ High School is a white student (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Michael Wattendorf, 17, a senior at TJ, said the students who voted for him focused not on race, but on his accomplishments. He said he started up a mentoring program for children in high-minority population schools in Fairfax County.

While Wattendorf’s presidency has been widely accepted now, it was not viewed positively at first. Howard Small, 17, an African American member of the club said that Wattendorf victory was a strange one at first.

“It was weird and difficult to accept. We’ve had other white members and [non-blacks], but having a white person as our leader? I didn’t know how to feel about it,” said Small, who did not vote for Wattendorf, according to the Post.

Wattendorf just won the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, which rewards high-schoolers who work towards bridging racial divides. The prize, worth $1,000, will go back to the club, Wattendorf told the Post.

Wattendorf joined the Black Student Union as a sophomore. He first was introduced to the club when a cross-country teammate, who was already in the Black Student Union showed him how to dance as part of the club's upcoming talent show act. Wattendorf became increasingly interested and ended up performing in the show.

The move is a notable one, particularly because the school has long worked to bolster its enrollment of African American and Hispanic students, the Post reported. Of the 1,800 students who attended TJ last year, only 34 were black and 42 were Hispanic, school figures show, according to the Washington Post. The majority of the students were Asian (906) and white (787).

But Small said that through Wattendorf’s ideas to do things such as mentor elementary schoolers or put on a talent show, he gained his support.

“He’s been really good as president,” Small told the Post, adding “we’re all okay with it now.”

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