February is Black History Month: Why it still matters
The study of history is a revelation of the entire human experience, helping us to make connections between the past and present, and providing us with guidance for the future based on the lessons we have learned.
Marcus Garvey, one of the thinkers I studied as a child growing up in Jamaica, said that a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. In a similar vein, on the other side of the Atlantic, in a 1948 speech to the British House of Commons, Winston Churchill said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
As a Canadian educator, I think it is important that all children know about their ancestors – their history, struggles and accomplishments. As Black History Month approaches, I think of black children and the need for us to support them so that they do not see themselves as victims as presented in many history books – but that they know about the resilience and the indomitable spirit of those who have gone before.
So many of these young people in society today are crying out for empathy and support as they navigate the challenging situations in which many find themselves. I cannot thank Canadian teachers and principals enough for their efforts in helping these children address what many of these young people and their parents described in a study as feelings of alienation and marginalization.
Education that is rooted in truth telling reminds us that racial issues are not rooted solely in the past. They persist. Renowned academic Professor George Dei has commented he is personally motivated by recognizing the history of the sacrifices of his black forebears, and it is this history that “must teach one something to fight for.” History tells the tale of what has come before us, the advances humanity has made with respect to attitudes towards race and other human rights issues.
It reminds us that injustices remain in the form of the negative stereotypes and assumptions that prevent many people from realizing their full potential. Through education, the study of the history of the black experience connects all young people as they learn with and from one another to be solution finders in an increasingly diverse world.
The saying “children are the only substance from which a responsible adult can be made” comes to mind. As we celebrate Black History Month, let us all, in the true spirit of what it means to be Canadian, continue to remove barriers to opportunity, ensuring that all our children receive the best possible education – one that enables them to take their rightful place in our society as empathetic and productive citizens.
I am extremely optimistic about the future because of our rich legacy of support for diversity and inclusion and because of our recognition that the quest for a just, humane and harmonious society depends on these efforts.