2016—2017 · Vol. 44 No. 5



Black History Month

Celebrating achievements and confronting challenges during Black History Month

In February, we celebrate Black History Month. We recognize and honour the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and note its impact on society. Yet, despite the progress that Black Canadians have made, there are still undeniable systemic barriers in the education system and even within OSSTF/FEESO that hinder continued progress. There is a disconnect between students of colour, especially Black males, and our education system, and it’s a problem that has been long overlooked and ignored. As a teacher in the Peel District School Board (PDSB), I find it encouraging to see that measures are being taken to engage Black students and to celebrate their history during and beyond the month of February. In particular, schools are taking an equity inventory to determine our strengths and weakness in reaching all of our students. In addition to the equity inventory, the PDSB has also put together an action plan, “We Rise Together” to support Black male students. This action plan came from the Board’s initial report “Perspectives of Black Male Students in Secondary Schools” in which focus groups identified the obstacles they face within the school system. The Board’s comprehensive plan is focused on four key ideas:

  1. Engage with the community
  2. Deliver anti-racism and bias awareness professional development
  3. Integrate the experiences of Black Canadians into the curriculum
  4. Inspire Black student leadership and engagement.

Together, these are the important preliminary steps the PDSB is taking towards meaningful change.

Employers are not the only ones moving towards building equity and inclusion. OSSTF/FEESO is also making strides in this endeavour. Since its inception, the provincial Equity Advisory Work Group has been committed to helping equity-seeking groups break down barriers to participation in our union. The motion to create the provincial Equity Advisory Work Group was only narrowly passed by a standing vote at AMPA 2011. But since then, OSSTF/FEESO has been successful in identifying and addressing barriers to participation by implementing a number of new practices that reflect our equity principles. Most notably, OSSTF/FEESO has undertaken a set of equity initiatives that can enable our Federation to be at its best and allow all members to see themselves reflected in its goals, structures, leadership, and practices. As per the direction of AMPA 2016, the Equity Officer and the Equity Advisory Work Group, with consultation of several committees and work groups, has undertaken the development of a formal, intensive mentorship program proposal for members from equity-seeking groups.

Since 2011, survey results show that there has been a marked improvement in barriers to participation for members of equity seeking groups. A greater participation from members of equity-seeking groups will strengthen OSSTF/FEESO and move us forward in a positive direction.

As we celebrate Black History Month this February, let us not be complacent in thinking that no further progress needs to be made. Instead, as we celebrate past achievements, let us look to the future and be moved by the fact that there is still significant work that needs to be done by educational workers and OSSTF/FEESO members.

/Jonelle St. Aubyn is a teacher in District 19. Peel and is a member of the provincial Equity Advisory Work Group.

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