2 Edmonton teachers create Black Teachers' Association of Alberta

Overcome with pride and enthusiasm the day after a massive anti-racism rally, two Edmonton teachers wanted to find a way to do more for Black teachers and students in the province.

Group wants Black liaison staff in the province’s schools

Andrew Parker, co-founder of the Black Teacher's Association of Alberta, is a high school teacher with Edmonton Public Schools. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Overcome with pride and enthusiasm the day after a massive anti-racism rally this month, two Edmonton teachers wanted to find a way to do more for Black teachers and students in the province.

Andrew Parker and Sarah Adomako-Ansah, who have each taught for seven years, came up with the Black Teachers' Association of Alberta.

"We felt it was necessary in order to get representation, communication, inclusion, of course racism awareness, providing support and of course networking for our teachers," Parker said.

"We want to see more faces in the classrooms in order to provide more opportunity for our youth and we want to get more youth in the faculty of education."

The association is looking for members from across the province. It has already hosted its first online video meeting with just over a dozen teachers.

Adomako-Ansah, who grew up in Edmonton, says she wasn't taught by a Black teacher until she was in university. She wonders how different her elementary and high school experience would have been if she had a teacher she could have identified with.

"In the school and in the district that I teach in, it's very multicultural. There's a lot of different kids from different ethnic backgrounds, but the majority of the teachers in my district are Caucasian," Adomako-Ansah said. 

"So we figured why not be a face for those students that maybe don't have someone that looks like them to look up to."

'Little backhanded comments'

Adomako-Ansah says she experiences racism in the school setting, often subtle, on a daily basis.

For example, she is occasionally asked by parents visiting her classroom where the teacher is, she said.

"I find it in little backhanded comments where someone truly doesn't realize that what they're saying is offensive or hurtful," she said. "It's just something that you see every day, unfortunately."

Sarah Adomako-Ansah, a Grade 6 teacher with Edmonton Catholic Schools, co-founded the Black Teacher's Association of Alberta. (Sarah Adomako-Ansah)

The group also wants to look at curriculum such as history and social studies, Adomako-Ansah said.

"So we're not just learning about the World War; maybe we're learning about the Rwandan genocide for example," Adomako-Ansah said. "Just something to bring to light that there are struggles in every nation and every ethnic group and how we as teachers can provide resources to staff to students to parents." 

Many school districts in the province have staff who act as liaisons for Indigenous, Inuit and Métis students, helping them academically, culturally and on a personal level.

Parker and Adomako-Ansah would like to see Black liaison members in schools with larger Black student populations.

"Imagine how many issues we could alleviate right there just by having that support in-house, but we can't get those liaisons if we don't have teachers in the positions to get those jobs," Parker said. "We're trying to carve a new niche inside of the education system."

Parker is also hoping Black students will be inspired to become teachers themselves.

"What we can control is what happens in the future and we're going to do everything in our power to make sure that we do everything we can do for the next generation of Black teachers."

The Black Teachers' Association of Alberta has not yet worked with any school boards. The group is planning to have a presence at teachers conventions, to work with non-Black teachers who want to assist.

Boards vow commitment to inclusion 

Edmonton and Calgary public school boards issued statements in response to the Black Lives Matter protests.

"We are committed to being a place where every student and staff person feels they belong," Edmonton Public Schools said. "Our commitment compels us to do the work of promoting anti-racism and inclusion."

"Education leaders must disrupt practices and structures that tend to serve some students and not all," said the Calgary Board of Education.

"This work requires each person to confront their own biases and to challenge their beliefs and assumptions.

"Addressing inequality is central to our work. It is about teaching and learning. It is about who has a voice. It is about who gets hired and who gets promoted to positions of responsibility. It is about levelling the playing field so that each student and staff member has the opportunity to succeed."

Adomako-Ansah said she plans to one day be a school administrator, something the first meeting of the association made her feel was actually achievable.

"I've never met them before but they were so encouraging," she said.

"So it was an overwhelming first meeting, but we're looking forward to meeting in person when it's when it's safe to do so with a larger group."

Join CBC Alberta for a personal and in-depth discussion about systemic racism, We Need to Talk, on Thursday, June 25, at 6:30 p.m. MT. Join CBC hosts Sandra Batson and Tanara McLean for a free, public forum discussion that shines a light on systemic racism in the province through the stories of people who have experienced it firsthand, with an aim to put forward potential solutions, concrete actions and examples of success. 

Panellists will include: 

  • Adora Nwofor, Calgary comedian and activist.
  • David Este, professor of social work, University of Calgary.
  • Ryan Holtz, Edmonton podcaster and marketing expert.
  • Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse, executive director of Natamoowin, Yellowhead Indigenous Education Foundation.
  • Spirit River Striped Wolf, president of Mount Royal University students association.

With special performances from:

  • Alanna Bluebird-Onespot, poet, Tsuut'ina Nation.
  • Andrew Parker, Edmonton teacher.

You can watch it live on: cbc.ca/weneedtotalkcbc.ca/calgary or cbc.ca/edmontonCBC Calgary's Facebook feedCBC Edmonton's Facebook feedCBC Gem or CBC Television. 

Have a personal story to share about your experience with systemic racism? Email weneedtotalk@cbc.ca.


Travis McEwan

Video journalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who covers stories ranging from human interest and sports to municipal and provincial issues. Originally from Churchill, Man., Travis has spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton reporting for web, radio and television. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca.