I Organized A Family-Friendly Protest To Stand Up Against Anti-Black Racism In Education
By True Daley, ByBlacks.com
PHOTO © Kotsy Photography
Aug 18, 2020
I grew up in Montreal in the '70s and my parents arrived in Canada from Jamaica in the late '60s. They had never heard the N-word or seen snow, and they didn’t understand French.
My mother came as a domestic working for affluent families and my father was a factory worker. When our family moved to a quiet middle-class neighbourhood we were the first Black family on our street. Although it didn’t phase them at the time, I remember a couple of disrespectful moments they handled with more humour and self-restraint than I would have in present day. One of which was when our neighbour decided to welcome us to the community by bringing over a box of old clothes from his attic. His adult children had outgrown them and he thought my sister and I might want to wear them. I watched as my mother graciously accepted his well-intentioned offering and engaged in an afternoon chit-chat.
"As a middle-aged Black woman and mom of a little girl, wearing a mask doesn’t present the same concerns." True Daley writes about the privilege of mask wearing that is not afforded to Black men here.
When she closed the door behind her, she laughed so hard she slid to the floor, and then called my dad over to look at the dusty and outdated outfits that had obviously been in storage for decades. Then there was the time my teacher refused to believe I was sick and proceeded to ream me out in front of the class for messy handwriting. Although I was doing well in school, as the only Black child in the class, I was used to the yelling and humiliation. It wasn’t until I vomited in her lap that she decided to inform my parents. My impeccably dressed, extremely composed mother arrived at the school within moments and respectfully gave them a piece of her mind.
Over the years, I can think of a few other incidents that weren’t as light-hearted or politically correct, but overall my parents taught me different approaches to advocacy.
Being A New Mom To An 8-Year-Old
Fast forward to present day where I’m a new mom through adoption of an eight-year-old, and I've decided to get more involved in the community as a co-founder of the Black Student Success Committee (BSSC) at my daughter’s school.
"For many Black parents today, conversations about human rights and social justice are just as common as reminding your kids to wash their hands or complete their chores."
We met once a month with teachers and other staff to figure out how we could support the school board’s most vulnerable students by offering alternative learning opportunities, Afrocentric field trips and community supports through mentorship and workshops.
School council was in full support of our efforts and we anticipated a groundbreaking year of student engagement. The principal at the time, however, was not as enthusiastic and found every possible reason to thwart our efforts, cancel events and prevent us from meeting or organizing activities. By the first week of March 2020, we filed an internal complaint with the TDSB with 18 allegations of anti-Black racism. Then came COVID-19, the global outcry over the death of George Floyd and hate mail.
By June, our morale was low and we felt like we had hit a brick wall of bureaucracy as we faced mounting fear, confusion and mistrust. So the Walk Against Racism was organized so that parents could join their children in a family-friendly protest and share their experiences in a safe space.
A few days before the community walk, I asked my daughter to help me with a collage I was creating as a tribute to Nelson Mandela. As I dipped her hands in red, black and green paint we talked about apartheid and the importance of using your voice to speak out against wrong. Although she wouldn’t be able to attend the walk for health reasons, she understood she was part of a pivotal moment in history.
"Next month, African-Canadian children will be thrust back into sophisticated segregation and toxic learning environments while being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic."
For many Black parents today, conversations about human rights and social justice are just as common as reminding your kids to wash their hands or complete their chores. By engaging her critical thinking, I hope my daughter will be able to identify the subtleties of micro-aggressions as quickly as she recites her timetables.
The Day of the Walk
On June 11th, the Walk Against Racism brought the community together in ways I never expected. Hundreds of people came out to inform and empower their children by learning from other kids. One of our first speakers was 13-year-old Alyssa Brown who asked to share a poem about her thoughts on police violence.
Alyssa's mom told the BSSC this experience gave her daughter the opportunity to be heard and validated. She remembered being called in to console Alyssa when she was in kindergarten and was told by a classmate she could not attend a birthday party because she was Black. In her eyes, little has changed since her eldest daughter faced discrimination at the school over 20 years ago. Her story is similar to many African-Canadian families who experience intergenerational trauma in both elementary and post-secondary institutions.
Vanessa Magic is getting ready for her son's first year of school, and she can't help but feel uneasy about the whole situation given the pandemic. Read her story here.
Another student who spoke up against anti-Black racism was a biracial eighth-grader. She came with her father and praised him for teaching her about her identity and social justice through hip-hop. She tearfully recalled being shamed about her hair texture when her white supply teacher told her she would have to straighten her naturally curly hair to look more presentable in her grad photos. Although her last year at the school would be marked with a painful memory, her father was grateful for the encouragement and support she received from her peers and neighbours.
According to blackhealthalliance.ca, 69 per cent of the Toronto District School Board’s Black students graduated in 2011, compared to 87 per cent of racialized students and 84 per cent of white students. Even when results are adjusted to reflect educational levels, second-generation Black Canadians earn 10 to 15 per cent less than second-generation white Canadians.
At the time of my writing this, our principal is on leave during investigations with no permanent replacement. There has been no update in the Toronto Police Services investigation or progress with the internal investigations by the TDSB’s Human Rights Office. The new principal will be tasked with leading a school in the midst of a mishandled crisis with less than a month of preparation.
Since the Walk Against Racism, similar peaceful demonstrations have taken place across Ontario with a focus on anti-Black racism in education. Next month, African-Canadian children will be thrust back into sophisticated segregation and toxic learning environments while being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
If there is anything they have learned over the summer of 2020, it’s that organized resistance must become a part of their life’s curriculum.
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