British Columbia

Activists, educators, parents looking to create black history curriculum for B.C. schools

A group of parents, educators and activists are working to create a Canadian Black history curriculum they hope becomes a mandatory part of teaching in B.C. schools.

'Regardless of our skin colour or pigmentation, we have a history and we all deserve respect and dignity'

Activists, educators, and parents met on Sunday in Vancouver to start outlining the early stages of this project. (Mugoli Samba/CBC)

Markiel Simpson attended Vancouver schools from kindergarten through Grade 12, but says he was never taught Canadian black history by any of his teachers.

"We've been kind of written out of the books," he says. "A lot of people don't even know that there's Black History Month in Canada, and in B.C."

The 25-year-old says erasure means most don't know that James Douglas, B.C.'s first governor, had a mother of African descent, or that the first practising dentist in the province was William Allen Jones, an African-American living in Kamloops. 

He also says this gap in knowledge helps perpetuate the myth that "there is no anti-black racism in Canada."

Markiel Simpson, 25, says he never learned black Canadian history as a student in Vancouver schools. (Mugoli Samba/CBC)

That's why Simpson brought together a group of parents, educators and activists on Sunday to start thinking about ways to create a Canadian black history curriculum they hope becomes a mandatory part of teaching in B.C. schools.

"I think that the education kind of lifts us from that ignorance, and hopefully gives people a better understanding that we're all human," Simpson says.

"Regardless of our skin colour or pigmentation, we have a history and we all deserve respect and dignity."

The province's current curriculum broadly focuses on developing communication, thinking, and personal and social core competencies among students.

But Nikitha Fester, head of French immersion at Vancouver Technical School, says teachers have the discretion to choose what content is used to develop those particular competencies. Fester also attended Sunday's meeting.

Nikitha Fester, head of French immersion at Vancouver Technical School, also attended Sunday’s meeting. (Mugoli Samba/CBC)

B.C.'s Ministry of Education says the current curriculum "supports the teaching of black history topics," including moments like the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Underground Railroad.

It also encourages school districts to "bring up and share the local history of particular groups in their community — such as black Canadians — and their considerable contributions to the history of Canada, British Columbia and local communities."

But Fester says, in theory, a teacher could decide black history is a "content option" they want to discard.

"If we want all teachers to do this from K to 12, it would have to be mandated," she says.

Markiel Simpson says the group is still looking for members of B.C.'s black community and allies who would like to contribute to this project.

About the Author

Mugoli Samba is a multimedia journalist working with Radio-Canada, CBC’s French service, in Vancouver. She can be reached at mugoli.samba@radio-canada.ca, or on twitter: @mugoli.

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