TAKING ACTION TO ADDRESS ANTI-BLACK RACISM IN CANADIAN SCHOOLS
On March 31, 2021 the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO) hosted a bilingual panel discussion that focused on implementing the recommendations of our recently released policy brief. Attended by 200 participants and moderated by Mohammad Mousa from CCUNESCO, our five panellists from four provinces, spoke about some of the ongoing challenges in addressing anti-Black racism in Canadian schools.
Each of our panellists focused on concrete actions that education leaders can take to implement the 5 recommendations to address anti-Black racism in Canadian schools (see box) and answered audience questions.
Click on the box to the right to view a recording of the “Taking Action to Address Anti-Black Racism in Canadian Schools” webinar.
WAYS TO TAKE CONCRETE ACTIONS IN CANADIAN SCHOOLS
Deena Kotak-Buckley, Director of Instruction at the Vancouver School Board and Lise D’Entremont, School Counsellor at two high schools in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, provided examples from their respective educational settings of initiatives they undertook over the past year. As part of addressing recommendations #3 and #4, Deena noted that in the Vancouver School Board every code of conduct now includes the words “racism will not be tolerated in our schools.” In addition, the Board has mandated anti-racism training for all staff in their system: 8,500 employees, including trustees, principals, teachers and non-teaching staff. This training is being facilitated by anti-racism and inclusion consultant Destine Lord, one of the facilitators of our 2020 summer professional development (PD) training, and a fellow panellist.
Lise spoke about the anti-racism training that Destine provided at both of her schools in Dartmouth, and how her colleagues had used this as an opportunity to address specific incidents that were happening in their classrooms. She stressed that teachers should model to their students that being anti-racist is hard, ongoing work, and that it won’t happen overnight or with one training session. She also noted that this work is going be uncomfortable but that we should lean into this in a vulnerable and open way.
Referring to recommendation #5, Destine and Elsa Mondésir Villefort, a civic engagement consultant from Montreal and our other 2020 summer PD facilitator, both stated that the education system needs to centre the experiences and voices of Black students. Through her work with community organizations and youth in Quebec, Elsa also noted that solutions for addressing anti-Black racism should always be “by and for” youth. Destine’s reflections highlight that anti-racism work should be practical. She argued that while theory is important, it “doesn’t make sense if you can’t give people practical ways and means to envision how they can participate in the change.”
Our fifth panellist, Ernest Edmond, co-founder of Les Ballons intensifs, a non-profit in Montreal that runs sports programming for youth from marginalized backgrounds, addressed recommendation #4. Ernest spoke of the importance of bringing community members, especially those from racialized backgrounds, into schools. Community members bring their own expertise to tackling anti-Black racism as they can help students understand and talk about it. He’s also seen how a more relaxed, sports-oriented environment outside of the formal education system can help students bring up and talk through their personal experiences with racism. Including parents, especially those of racialized students, is also essential as they bring in an important, often unexamined perspective.
NOTABLE THEMES FROM THE DISCUSSION AND AUDIENCE QUESTIONS
- It’s never too early to start anti-Black racism training – it can start as young as infancy and should not wait until students are in high school; it also needs to be reinforced at home
- Addressing anti-Black racism, as well as racism against other groups, requires decolonizing the curriculum and acknowledging the lived history and contributions of Black and Indigenous peoples
- An equity audit would be a useful tool in schools as it would bring to light what is missing from the curriculum, learning materials and policies, etc.
- Anti-racism work involves a balance between “calling in” people to do the work and “calling out” people for not doing it
- Addressing anti-Black racism does not minimize other forms of racism and oppression, but serves as an entry point into these important conversations
- While it can be overwhelming to know where to start with anti-Black racism work, it is essential to take action now, even with one or two concrete actions
In closing, and in reference to the last two points, Destine stressed: “The longer we have questions about “where do we start?” and “is this fair?” and “will we be leaving someone out?”, the more white supremacy and racism wins, and our goal is always to strive to be anti-racist.”
Watch the webinar recording here.
Please note this bilingual event features English and French speakers. Full subtitles in both languages will be added to the video in the coming weeks.
Read our policy brief here.
Anti-Racism and Inclusion Consultant (Ottawa, ON)
Elsa Mondésir Villefort
Civic Engagement Consultant (Montreal, QC)
School Counsellor, John Martin Jr. High & South Woodside Elementary (Dartmouth, NS)
Deena Kotak Buckley
Director of Instruction, Education Services for the Vancouver School Board (Vancouver, BC)
Ernest Edmond Jr.
Co-founder and President, Les Ballons Intensifs (Montreal, QC)