Montreal·Black Changemakers

This high school student is helping Black youth speak up for themselves

Growing up in the West Island, Nate Sanders says he needed to spend a lot of time filling in the blanks left by his formal education. So he learned on his own, and is sharing what he found with others.

Nate Sanders found pride in who he is by learning about Black social movements

Nate Sanders is in his final year of high school, and plans to study law. (Submitted by Nate Sanders)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

Growing up in the West Island, Nate Sanders says he needed to spend a lot of time filling in the blanks left by his formal education.

"Throughout my five years of high school, we've had, with no exaggeration, maybe three pages total on Black history within our history textbooks," said Sanders, who will be graduating this year.

"The indirect message being pushed is that contributions from Black Canadians in Canadian history just aren't as important as those of white Canadians."

In doing his own learning, he found major Black social movements in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada that were just left out of the standard curriculum.

"As a Black Canadian, you really have to go out of your way, you have to spend a good chunk of your own time to learn your own history," he said.

Growing up as a Black youth in a predominantly white neighbourhood, he said it took him years to no longer feel ashamed about who he was.

He said many white students find racism funny, just because it is offensive. He remembers two years ago when some of his students created social media accounts with racist usernames and followed their Black peers.

And he would hear the N-word used not only by students, but also by teachers in the classroom when conducting readings — something he's recently gained the confidence to speak out about.

Now, equipped with the tools to challenge the mindset that he's somehow inferior, he's working to help other Black youth feel secure in who they are, and speak up for themselves.

Working with the West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA), and compiling a book of strong Black figures in Montreal, he wants to help others feel a sense of pride in who they are.

He credits his growth to learning from those involved in WIBCA, Black educators at his high school and Akilah Newton, creator of Overture with the Arts.

Reading the work of Black writers, particularly Malcolm X, helped him understand the importance of building up and mobilizing Black communities.

While he doesn't agree with all of Malcolm X's conclusions, Sanders said reading about his life really helped him step out of his bubble.

"Malcolm X's story didn't start as a story of Black power or Black pride," he said. "It starts as a story of struggle. So it was something I was able to relate to."

After graduation, Sanders plans to study law.

"Your oppressor is never going to look down upon you and say, 'Come up and compete with me,'" Sanders said.

So, he's taken the initiative himself — supported by a community he's become deeply involved with.

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Read more stories here.

Written by Colin Harris, with files from Rowan Kennedy