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Black community group donates books to schools, libraries in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.

The Fort Black Society started a book drive to highlight stories written by Black authors, or about Black historical figures like Rosa Parks and Aretha Franklin. 

'It's really about educating ourselves and educating our community'

Jibs Abitoye, chair of the Fort Black Society in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., reads to Grade 4 students at Fort Saskatchewan Christian School from one of the books the group donated to it for Black History Month. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

As February comes to an end, so too does Black History Month.

But one group in Fort Saskatchewan is working to keep the conversation going for kids through books.

"It's really about educating ourselves and educating our community," said Jibs Abitoye, chair of the Fort Black Society. 

"The reason people are racist, or they do the things they do, is out of ignorance. But when you educate yourself, you know better — and when you know better, you do better."

The society, which launched last year to help empower Fort Saskatchewan's Black residents, started a book drive in the city to highlight stories written by Black authors, or about Black historical figures like Rosa Parks and Aretha Franklin.

WATCH | Extending inclusion beyond Black History Month:

Extending inclusion beyond Black History Month

4 months ago
Duration 2:03
The Fort Black Society, joined by RCMP members, is donating books by Black authors and featuring Black heroes to schools across Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. in an effort to help students engage with Black heritage and culture.

The book drive aims to get more books by Black authors into the classroom. The society worked with a local business to donate about 120 books to schools in the community, the library, and to hand out at places like the grocery store. 

Some of the books went to Fort Saskatchewan Christian School. Some members of the society then read the stories with students, and had a conversation about race and people's heritage. 

"It's just nice to see [the kids] really engaged and being interested, and really say, 'No more bullying, the injustice stops right now, we need to do better,'" Abitoye said.

"It was just really, really encouraging for me because it gives me hope for my kids."

More representation in schools

Bonnie Matichuk, a Grade 4 teacher at the school, adopted her daughter, Sarah-Marie, from Haiti as a baby. 

As a mother of a Black child in Fort Saskatchewan, she said it was hard to find inclusive books and toys as her daughter grew up. 

"I always had to work hard to find things that represented her," Matichuk said.

Bonnie Matichuk, left, and her daughter Sarah-Marie, right, said the donations are important to provide more resources for students at Fort Saskatchewan Christian School. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Whether it was books at a library, or dolls in the Walmart toy aisle, the available options were predominantly white, she said.

Sarah-Marie, now 13, said it's good to see that changing, including on her library shelves.

"It's just important for all people to know more about Black History Month. Not just Black people, but also white people too, in other different communities," she said.

RCMP Const. Lauren Mowbray also took part in Black History Month. She read to students to help them feel comfortable with difficult discussions.

"I came in as a Caucasian person, as an ally to the Fort Black Society," she said.

"I think that kind of normalized it for [the kids] and they then saw that it was OK to have these discussions, and it was OK to say Black person or white person."

The Fort Black Society and a local company are donating around 120 books to Fort Saskatchewan schools and the library. They are also being handed out at places like grocery stores. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

The Fort Black Society was impressed by the conversations with kids, some as young as Grade 1. Abitoye said it points to a positive change already happening in the community. 

"Something I always say to every class is, 'Go back and talk to your parents about this,'" she said. 

"[Kids] tend to know how to talk to their parents about these things." 

The Fort Black Society has seen a shift toward more inclusive attitudes in the past decade.

Abitoye hopes that holding more events like these — talking to young people and exploring Black culture and heritage — will help bring about change and expand conversations beyond Black History Month.

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi is a CBC reporter based in Edmonton. She worked in newsrooms in Toronto, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yellowknife before joining CBC North in 2017.

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