Black Lives Matter protesters marched through the streets of Williams Lake Friday, June 5, led by teen Rea Klar. (Angie Mindus photo)

Black Lives Matter protesters marched through the streets of Williams Lake Friday, June 5, led by teen Rea Klar. (Angie Mindus photo)

Teach Black history to fight racism, starting in elementary school: B.C. students

Students say current anti-racism protests in the U.S. and Canada point to a need for lessons

Daniel Afolabi remembers one soccer game in particular at age nine in Okotoks, Alta., when a player on the opposing team refused to shake his hand.

“He goes ‘I don’t want to shake your hand because you’re Black,’ ” Afolabi remembers.

He was around the same age when a woman showed up in his class wearing black face to portray American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who freed slaves in the 1800s via the Underground Railroad to Canada.

“I don’t really want another kid to have to go through that and not realize what’s with that until like five years later,” he said.

Afolabi, who is 20 and entering his third year at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder school of business, said the outpouring of emotion after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis is an opportunity for Canadian schools to address racism against Black people.

He is planning an online petition to present to Alberta Education in hopes of getting more Black history taught in schools. It would be based on the teaching of Indigenous history and cover the historical, social, economic and political impact of racism.

“I’m not saying learning about racism in high school or elementary school will solve racism but at least people can be held a bit more accountable,” he said.

When he was in high school, one of the few Black-themed assignments Afolabi remembers was the novel ”To Kill a Mockingbird,” a book he enjoyed reading on his own but not hearing it read aloud by the teacher.

“My discomfort was when a white woman is reading it and there’s the N-word and other students will point to you whenever the word is read,” he said.

Alberta Education spokesman Colin Aitchison said the province’s current curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 12 addresses race and racism by teaching students to value and respect diversity and support equality.

“Throughout the social studies curriculum, there is a strong focus on Canadian history, including issues related to the histories, cultures and contributions of Indigenous Peoples and people of African and Caribbean descent to our province and country,” he said in a statement.

“The recent events unfolding across North America are a clear example as to why it is important to educate our youth about racism.”

READ MORE: Amid anti-racism protests, Trudeau promises to push police body cameras with premiers

Aitchison did not immediately respond to questions about possibly changing the curriculum.

Jean Ngendakumana, a Grade 11 student in Vancouver who moved from Tanzania when he was four, said any Black history he has been taught at school was skimmed over.

“I would say the best learning I’ve had was maybe about Viola Desmond and what happened to her and why she’s on the $10 bill,” he said.

“I don’t think many people are well educated, or educated at all, about what we had to go through and what we still have to go through.”

British Columbia Education Minister Rob Fleming said his ministry is examining ways to work with local groups to develop a curriculum that better incorporates Black history, including the slave trade and the Underground Railroad.

Ministry staff is meeting with the B.C. Black History Awareness Society next week in an effort to address the needs of young people who are demanding change, Fleming said in a statement.

“We plan to listen and we are committed to working with community partners to strengthen the curriculum, to support diversity and to add to the global effort to end systemic racism,” he said.

Yasin Kiraga, executive and artistic director of the African Descent Society British Columbia, said he began discussing the significance of Black history with the Education Ministry in 2016.

He said Black students could be empowered by learning about their ancestors in Vancouver.

Kiraga, who came to Canada as a refugee from Burundi in 2009, has visited schools to teach about the once-thriving Black community in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood.

He said many moved out of the city before the buildings they lived in were demolished in the 1970s to make way for a viaduct to connect the area to downtown.

Nora Hendrix, grandmother of rock legend Jimi Hendrix, co-founded a church in Strathcona and was a well-known figure in the community along with her husband Ross Hendrix.

Kiraga said B.C.’s curriculum should include more than a minimum amount of teaching during Black History Month.

“We can educate Canadians who don’t understand the stories of racism in the past and how it affected the Black community,” said Kiraga, who is working with the Vancouver School Board to develop a course on Black history.

READ MORE: Racism is here too, say Victoria’s black community leaders

The board said it is using content from the African Descent Society to seek approval from trustees for a course.

“Once a course is developed and approved, it is then added to the curriculum options at secondary schools according to timetabling and student interest,” it said in a statement.

Trustee Jennifer Redding said anti-racism learning should be strengthened starting in elementary school because an elective course in high school isn’t enough.

“What I’ve learned as a trustee from young people, young Black learners in our school district, is that they want to learn more from an elementary age and want their peers to learn more from an elementary age,” she said.

It’s also important to recruit more Black teachers, Redding said.

“I’m a racialized trustee so it’s both personal and professional. I know what it’s like to not see yourself in the educator or in the curriculum,” she said.

“Young people are frustrated and their parents have gone through the same stuff. I think it’s an important time for change because it’s such a call to action all around the world, so business as usual isn’t working out for our kids or our educators.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

British ColumbiaEducationracismSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Eli, left, Brent, Lindsay and Ava Wilson. (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wilson)
West Shore families share experience in raising a child with autism

Two families reveal some parallels, but circumstances are different for everyone

Hamels Fabrics & Quilting is set to open on April 6 in Sooke. The shop is located at 2044 Otter Point Road. (Mark Martins/Pixabay)
Fabric and quilting store opens doors in Sooke

Shop is filled with all kinds of ‘bright, bold and cheery’ designs

Kit Thornton, chief aquarist at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, plays with Wanda, the female Giant Pacific octopus currently residing at the centre. The centre will release Wanda back into the wild next month. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
An octopus named Wanda will soon say goodbye to Sidney

Wanda’s personality is ‘complete opposite’ of previous octopus named after Dr. Bonnie Henry

New hours went into effect at Saanich Parks and Public Works Yard for spring and summer seasons on April 6. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Spring, summer hours in effect at Saanich Public Works Yard

Residents reminded to practise social distancing, prepare to unload without staff help

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 investment into movie studio study at Camosun College

South Island NDP candidates promised funding to develop business plan during 2020 election

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s help in identifying the man suspected of being involved in a stabbing. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP trying to identify stabbing suspect who wielded rusty knife

Stabbing followed argument between two men at Port Place Shopping Centre April 1

The inside of the Campbell River Community Centre gymnasium has been marked off in order to facilitate the public flowing through the clinic as they receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell river Mirror
Leftover vaccines go into arms, not down the drain: Island Health

Immunization plan comes with built-in options for any unused vaccines at the end of the day

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Most Read