Illustration: Helen Sun

On 2 June 2021, the MGCI School Council held an online meeting to address anti-Black racism in the school community. The event was advertised through emails which were sent to parents, students, and staff members. A ten dollar grocery gift card was offered to the first fifty parents to register. Over forty people attended the event, which was held on Zoom and took place from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. 

In February 2021, a working group of six parents from the School Council applied for the TDSB’s Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grant, which provides funding to parent councils for various initiatives. This year, the PRO Grant program allocated $52 000 towards anti-oppression initiatives that address anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, with $1 500 given to each successful application [1].

The MGCI School Council wanted to hold an event to raise awareness about the inequality that Black students face, as well as the resources available to help Black students and parents advocate for themselves. Event Organiser Omar Khan, who was a member of the working group said, “The point was that we wanted to make School Council members and parents more generally more aware of the situation for Black students at MGCI and to make a commitment as a council to do more to support those parents, to learn more, and to know what kind of advocacy they could do or what kind of supports were there to help them advocate.”

The school administration was very supportive of the event. Principal Di Felice and several other staff members were present.

The event began with a welcome from Nazerah Shaikh, one of the MGCI School Council Co-Chairs. Zawar Patel, one of the parents from the working group, read the land acknowledgement. A moment of silence was held to honour the two hundred and fifteen children whose remains were recently found at Kamloops Residential School. Zawar also encouraged everyone to educate themselves about the issues that Indigenous peoples have faced and continue to face. This includes reviewing the ninety-four calls to action that are found in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which can be found here.

The event featured several speakers, including Keynote Speaker Charline Grant, who works with Parents of Black Children (PoBC). PoBC is an advocacy group that supports Black students and aims to“address and dismantle anti-Black racism and systemic barriers within the education and adjacent systems” [2]. Charline spoke about the experiences she and her children had had with racism in the school system, and how she came to be involved with PoBC. Charline works as a system navigator for PoBC and helps provide support and advice for Black parents interacting with the school system.

The next speaker was Grade 10 Student Aishah Salim, who is the president of MGCI’s Black Student Association (BSA). At their weekly meetings, she facilitates discussions on various topics such as colourism and police brutality. Aishah spoke about her own experiences with bullying and anti-Black racism and shared experiences she had heard from her peers. 

When asked what she wanted people to take away from the event, she said, “I just want people to know that this is a real issue. As children we face this issue, as teenagers we face this issue and we can’t just keep ignoring it. We can’t sweep it under the rug. We can’t make it a trend and just protest about it for a few weeks because this is an ongoing issue and it’s been happening for a long time. I want people to know that this happens to us from a very young, young age. Just because slavery is abolished and segregation is abolished doesn’t mean that we do not face discrimination still. I want people to know that just because we live in a multicultural community, we live in a South-Asian populated community, we live in a very diverse community, we live in Canada, I want them to know that we still go through these things. I want them to know that they need to use their voice to speak up on our behalf. We can’t be the only ones fighting this fight. If we are, they can’t be silencing us, they can’t be shutting us down and putting us down.”

“When I heard Aishah speak I was so angry inside. I was hurting and angry inside and I thought, what can I do and how can I help? I think every adult in the room was probably feeling the same way,” said Nazerah.

Omar then spoke on behalf of the School Council to talk about systemic racism and why parents should care about anti-Black racism specifically. He began by sharing statistics about the achievement gap for Black students within the TDSB. For example, Black students are twice as likely to be suspended or drop out of high school when compared to their white peers. He gave several examples of anti-Black racism including the story of Ejaz Choudry, a Black man who was fatally shot by police while going through a mental health crisis in the summer of 2020. He also mentioned how aspects of the school system, such as police presence in high schools and streaming (the division of students into academic or applied courses) disproportionately disadvantage Black students. Omar concluded his presentation by speaking about what gives him hope for the future, including the actions he has seen from students, parents, and school staff.

Omar also spoke about the TDSB’s Centre of Excellence for Black Student Excellence, which launched on 1 June 2021. The centre is working to provide support to help Black students combat racism and succeed within the TDSB [3].

The final speaker for the night was Paul Hillman, who teaches Phys. Ed. at MGCI. He talked about microaggressions that he had experienced, and that he had seen his students experience. 

Following the four speakers, participants were put into break-out rooms to discuss the question, “When you hear the phrase ‘Black lives matter’ what comes to mnd?” Each group was facilitated by a volunteer from the School Council or MGCI staff. Black-identified students and parents joined a breakout room with Charline to learn more about the advocacy and services they could access through PoBC.

To conclude the meeting, working group member Mujahid Nazir shared the MGCI Parent Council’s commitment and resolution to address anti-Black racism:

We reject the racism that persists against Black and Indigenous people, as well as others, here in Canada every day. We maintain our commitments to address those wrongs while racism demands our focus right now. We acknowledge that:

  • Racism is a system, not an event.
  • Racism isn’t limited to the intentional acts of bad people. It includes unintentional and subtle acts.
  • Racism is a socialized condition that begins in our homes and hides behind how we see others and in the implicit biases we must all confront and address.
  • We also have an ethical duty to speak up against racism or we are complicit in racist violence.
  • Eliminating racism will be hard work: it requires grace and courage, and most of all a safe environment for people to speak up.

To our Black community: we see you, we hear you, we stand with you, we kneel with, and we will be led by you. We also acknowledge that we must do so much more. Our School Council commits to building an anti-racist and pro-equity community. We will not tolerate racism or discrimination. We will hold ourselves accountable and use this opportunity to make transformational changes and courageously confront systemic racism and social injustice. We are optimistic, hopeful and commit to making conscientious and intentional choices. School Council meetings are public and open to all parents; and, we would like to encourage and support any of our Black parents to join the MGCI School Council.

At the end of the event, attendees were entered in a book draw. Ten winners were chosen at random to receive their choice of one of two books which focus on anti-racism: So You Want to Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “That was a very intentional exercise,” said Nazerah. “We could give gift cards and we could do honorariums and all those things. But giving a book opens your mind, makes you see different ideas. It’s also establishing a way for all those people to reconnect. Maybe we can also start a book club WhatsApp group or a group so that we can have these kinds of conversations ongoing. Starting a book club with intentionally chosen books that were either by a Black author or a Black voice and talking about anti-racism.”

The School Council also asked participants to fill out a survey giving their feedback on the event. Moving forward, they want to continue to raise awareness about anti-Black racism and work to involve more Black parents with the School Council. Nazerah stated that, “We need to have more of these diverse voices. Because I think too much of the same, too much of the status quo, we’ve got to start breaking those things down and then we have to start creating those spaces where people can rise.”

 

 Works Cited:  

[1] https://www.tdsb.on.ca/Community/How-to-Get-Involved/School-Councils/Parents-Reaching-Out-Grants

[2] https://parentsofblackchildren.org/

[3] https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/tdsb-launches-new-centre-to-combat-deeply-entrenched-anti-black-racism-1.5451958