Black History Month can help promote unity and inclusion
By Dr. Avis Glaze
There are many who ask why we need Black History Month, celebrated each February. I would welcome the day when we do not need a reminder of the key roles, contributions and sacrifices that people in general, and Black people specifically, have made throughout history.
For Black people, it is a time to celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion and to keep alive the many stories of bravery, fortitude and resilience of individuals of African descent. But, while we have, and continue to make many strides, we have not yet reached the mountaintop.
I am filled with optimism, though, after reading a piece by Michael Adams and Andrew Parkin in the Globe and Mail at the end of 2022, who wrote about their recent polling on diversity. They conclude that “Diversity has become more important to us as we have become more diverse. Canadians are not only adapting to change, they are embracing it.”
Opinions converge on the notion that learning Black history helps us understand Canadian history and who we are as a country. It has the potential to promote unity and our goal of becoming a truly inclusive society. It highlights the achievements of Black people – their struggles, ambitions, and successes, whether as scientists, inventors, politicians, teachers, artists, business or trades people.
Criticism about Black History Month still exists. It promotes discomfort and feelings of guilt, some say. Or it makes white children feel uncomfortable and guilty about their identities, say others. Some lawmakers in the U.S. (and some politicians here) are unleashing attacks on Black history under the guise of protecting white children from “discomfort.” Some states are banning the teaching of critical race theory. Many want to cancel discussions on uncomfortable histories such as the Holocaust and offensive campaigns against Indigenous peoples. Some don’t want teachers to have discussions on these topics for fear the subject matter is too sensitive. And yet those are exactly the kinds of discussions we need to have and what many teachers do so well.
Most Canadian schools observe Black History Month. Many teachers across Kawartha Lakes encourage their students to do projects and hold discussions on this aspect of the curriculum. I will always remember having dinner with a friend (a white family) in Nova Scotia a few years ago. His son, who was about nine at the time, talked to me with confidence and enthusiasm about his project for Black History Month. I was truly impressed and felt grateful for his teacher who encouraged what I would describe as curiosity-driven research, learning and empathetic understanding across cultures.
As an educator, my concerns are for the children in our schools. Will the lessons learned in school about diversity, equity and inclusion become enduring and lifelong goals? Will they develop the empathy that is the essence of positive interpersonal relationships? Will they be motivated to promote and defend for all, the rights so many Canadians cherish?
I have great faith in our teachers who work to prepare our students to become citizens who think critically and analytically, who feel deeply and empathically and who act wisely and ethically. This is so important when fake news and misinformation are rampant.
Participating in Black History is a part of this journey toward a fairer society for all.
–Dr. Avis Glaze is a former director of education for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. She was Ontario’s Education Commissioner and has worked with educators in over 50 jurisdictions worldwide. She is currently an international education adviser to Scotland.