Anti-racism walkout sparks protest outside school district office

Another anti-racism group is joining the call for the Calgary Catholic School District to step up and do more when it comes to instances of racism in its schools.

Protestors gathered Friday in support of students who walked out of class last week

Protestors gathered outside the downtown office of the Calgary Catholic School District Friday to call for action from the board to handle racism in schools. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Another anti-racism group is joining the call for the Calgary Catholic School District to step up and do more when it comes to instances of racism in its schools.

Dozens of protestors gathered outside the downtown office of the CCSD Oct. 16, following the student-led walkout at Bishop McNally High School that occurred last week.

Students initially organized the walkout after two recordings circulated online of staff from the school district using the N-word.

In one of the incidents that occurred two weeks ago at St. Michael School, four students were suspended for recording principal Lianne Anderson's remarks without her knowledge and posting it online — something the school board said violated the student code of conduct.

The other incident occurred at Bishop McNally in the past two years, but the video only recently began making rounds on social media.

It has now led to hundreds of students from across Calgary adding their voice to the conversation and calling for change.

Friday protest

At the Friday protest, Adam Massiah with the United Black People's Allyship said he stands in solidarity with students who walked out at Bishop McNally.

"Until there are solidified, tangible changes made, we will remain to keep pressure on the Calgary Catholic School Board, and we'll keep them in the public eye to ensure that they are held accountable for what they say they're going to do," he said.

Adam Massiah with the United Black People's Allyship says he stands in solidarity with students. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Since the incident at Bishop McNally, Massiah said there hasn't been any recommendation or structure put in place for staff members to go through racial sensitivity training.

"Especially considering everything that has happened this summer, you think that they would be a little bit less tone deaf and a little bit more sensitive to their minority students protesting," he said.

Massiah said he hopes to see anti-racism practices and principles spread throughout the CCSD.

Calgary students stage anti-racism walkout

CBC News Calgary

7 months ago
Bishop McNally students ended their anti-racism walkout with a peaceful sit-in outside Calgary police's headquarters on Oct. 8. Find out what started it. 2:04

"Look at your own implicit bias and determine whether or not you have internalized racism and be sensitive to the minorities that you are supposed to be teaching," he said. "The people that are supposed to look up to you and come to you with their problems and to come to you if they have a struggle in their life."

Bishop Carroll High School Grade 11 student Akuch Akol, who was also at the protest, said she hopes staff become more educated on how to react to similar situations.

"I would like to see the teachers own up to what they have done and see that Calgary Catholic can actually speak about it to their students and be open and be willing to learn and change," she said.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances that brought the protestors together, Akol said it's been great to see allies join in on the conversation.

"Honestly, sometimes it feels like you're alone in the movement and everything, so it's nice to see so many people of different cultures come together to all speak up about this."

School board says next steps are being planned

In an emailed statement to CBC News, chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas said he hears and appreciates the voices of students.

"We understand the importance of anti-racism and know there is work to be done. Our racial justice committee is in the process of planning next steps with anti-racism efforts across our district. We will share more specific information as soon as it is available," he said.

Marion Ashton, executive director of Sankofa Foundation and spokesperson for the students who led the Bishop McNally walkout last week, met with Szumlas earlier on Friday to discuss demands.

Marion Ashton with the Sankofa Art and Music Foundation helped the students come up with their demands. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

"We talked about hiring practices around representation, we talked about language use," she said.

"At this point, though, we look forward and I look forward to the continued dialogue with them."

She said she understands that the school board is trying to flesh out what the future framework will look like.

"I can appreciate that. But whatever it is at this point, we are committed and and we look forward to whatever that manifestation of that framework is," she said.

Ashton said there will be a scheduled meeting to follow up on changes that need to be made.

With files from Lucie Edwardson.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.