Former Chilliwack student calls out high school for allowing blackface photo in 2017 yearbook
Student speaks out after G.W. Graham Secondary posted black square image on Instagram; principal apologizes
A former Chilliwack high school student is publicly challenging teachers and school administrators in the city to take racist incidents seriously after posting a 2017 yearbook photo that showed a young male student in blackface.
Makena Lejeune, who is Black, said there were no repercussions after the image was published in the G.W. Graham Secondary School yearbook, despite complaints from some students that the photo was offensive.
Lejeune, now 21, was a Grade 12 student at a neighbouring high school at the time. She called out G.W. Graham Secondary on Instagram after the school posted an image of a black square as part of "#BlackOutTuesday" on June 2, as protests were held across the U.S., Canada and the world over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.
She said the school's post — one of many thousands uploaded to social media by individuals and organizations across the world in solidarity with the protests — seemed hypocritical.
"A lot of the students got upset but the teachers didn't do anything," said Lejeune of the reaction to the blackface photo.
"I just think schools in this town need to be held accountable for their racist actions."
She said since the photo was published, the school's administration has changed and the school's new principal has spoken to her and was "very respectful."
In a letter posted on the school's website, G.W. Graham principal Chuck Lawson apologized for the yearbook photo and explained it was taken from a scene in a mock trial in which a student wore blackface to play a role. He said it was unfortunate the actions were not stopped at the classroom level and discussed.
"Our youth are going to make mistakes, and it is the role of adults to bring concerns forward in a respectful manner," Lawson said in the letter.
He thanked people who had brought the concerns forward and said the school will strive to do better.
In their conversation, Lejeune said Lawson had outlined plans for anti-racism initiatives and understood severity of posting a blackface photo.
Lejeune, who is now attending the University of Victoria, said there is now more support for people who have experienced racism, which is empowering them to speak out.
She is calling for anti-racism training for teachers and said schools need to hear personal experiences and invite guest speakers to educate students and teachers.