Why these B.C. teens are pushing for Black Shirt Day in schools

Published 2021-01-15 18:11

Friday also marks the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

Jacqueline Luong and Jayden Henwood think it’s time for students to learn more about Black history in school.

And they think Jan. 15 — what they call Black Shirt Day — should be the day to get started.

“It’s important that we educate about Black history and the Black community and that everyone knows how you could be anti-racist and how you can support the movement,” Jayden, 12, told CBC Kids News on Thursday.

To help spread that message, Jacqueline, Jayden and other students and teachers at École Marlborough Elementary in Burnaby, B.C., wore black shirts on Friday.

They aren’t the only ones.

It’s part of an initiative created by the Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver.

“Since I come from Black heritage, it’s a lot more important to me and that’s why I really wanted to do this.” — Jayden Henwood, 12

The goal of the movement is to gather community support for adding more Black history to the B.C. school curriculum.

“We need to educate people on the topic,” Jacqueline said.

Grade 7 students at École Marlborough Elementary create posters to promote Black Shirt Day.

Grade 7 students at École Marlborough Elementary create posters to promote Black Shirt Day. (Image submitted by Dana Bales)

Black Shirt Day not yet officially recognized

The initiative is similar to Orange Shirt Day, where students wear orange shirts in solidarity with Indigenous victims of the residential school system, or Anti-Bullying Day, where students wear pink shirts.

But Black Shirt Day hasn’t yet been declared an official day, so organizers started a petition to have the British Columbia Ministry of Education recognize the day across the Lower Mainland, despite the fact that they missed the December deadline to apply. 

By Friday afternoon, more than 10,750 people had signed, surpassing the group’s goal of 10,000 signatures.

Eventually, organizers hope the day will be celebrated worldwide.

A poster supporting Black Shirt Day.

The Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver is calling for Jan. 15 to officially be declared Black Shirt Day to raise awareness about the fight for equality by Black Canadians. (Image credit: Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver)

The province responds

In a statement issued Friday, B.C.’s Ministry of Education said it supports the teaching of Black history topics and understands that there is “more work to be done.”

“We will continue to listen and work collaboratively to ensure we can effectively strengthen the curriculum, further support diversity and add to the global effort to end systemic racism,” the statement reads.

The ministry also said it applauds the initiative behind Black Shirt Day and believes that “education is a powerful tool in the fight for equity and equality.”

The ministry said it has not received a formal request from the organization to officially recognize the day, but that it has made contact to ensure they are familiar with the application process. 

Schools across B.C. participated

Multiple schools in Burnaby, as well as nearby districts of Surrey and Vancouver, participated in the event.

The Burnaby School District said several staff and students took part in their buildings by not only wearing black shirts, but by fostering discussion about civil rights.

Students making a poster.

Students at École Marlborough Elementary posted signs in a display case, urging students to ‘Be proud of who you are and where you come from.’ (Image submitted by Dana Bales)

Student organizers at École Marlborough Elementary visited classrooms to help get students aware and excited about the day.

They also made daily morning announcements in the lead-up to Jan. 15, educating students on prominent figures from the Black community, including Harriet Tubman and George Floyd.

On Black Shirt Day, they recognized a hero of the U.S. civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., who died in 1968 and would have turned 92 years old on Friday.

Every effort counts

Whether or not students celebrated Black Shirt Day, Jayden said it’s “important to get people educated” on issues faced by the Black community.

At their school, students have been writing messages outlining how they will be anti-racist and sticking them on classroom doors.

A tweet from a teacher that reads:

Advice for kids

If you’re curious about learning more about Black history, Jacqueline and Jayden urge you to read books, look online or ask someone who knows about the subject.

“You can support the movement,” Jayden said.

With files from CBC British Columbia

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