Community groups such as the Organization of Parents of Black Children (OPBC) successfully plugged the void that public education is mandated to fill by advocating to ensure that African Canadian children get the opportunity to succeed in the public school system, says Africentric Alternative School principal Thando Hyman-Aman.
Concerned that the school system was failing their children, a group of parents – led by educator Keren Brathwaite – formed the OPBC in 1979 to address the needs of Black students. Organizations, including the Black Educators Project and the Black Educators Working Group also lobbied for inclusive and anti-racist curriculum and pedagogy.
“These organizations have allowed African Canadians to emerge as some of the vocal critics of the formal education system,” Hyman-Aman said in the keynote address at the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) Black History Month launch last Sunday.
“This advocacy has initiated a new pedagogy in education where the student is central rather than the subject, where culture is accepted, not neglected, where education is dynamic and grounded in the lived experiences of the learner versus old, detached and static models of learning that have proven at times to be unsuccessful to some of our learners. These tireless efforts have resulted in many gains, not just for our community, but for the larger society in our approach to education.”
Hyman-Aman is the first principal of Canada’s first Africentric Alternative School which opened in September 2009. The school has been heavily scrutinized even though it’s one of 41 Toronto District School Board (TDSB) alternative schools.
“These schools are in existence, in large part, due to the struggles against anti-racism and equity in which our community has played an important role,” she said. “It’s also due to an increasing number of parents who are calling for specialized schooling – boutique schools – and who are seeking a different or alternative way of success in schools. Let’s face it, what is it that we all want for our children? We want them to succeed, we want them to be literate, proficient, critical thinkers and valuable, progressive, responsible citizens of our future. Is that what we want?
“There are a myriad of ways to get there. Some people would like to hop, skip and jump to that finish line, some people would rather swim to that finish line, maybe others would like to fly to the finish line. But the point is we need to get them to the finish line.”
Last year, the OBHS collaborated with Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) to start a scholarship program for Black high school students. This year’s winner is 20-year-old Humber College accounting student Abdi Rashid Ali who came to Canada last August from a Kenyan refugee camp on a world university service scholarship.
Both of his parents were killed at the start of the Somali civil war in 1991 when he was just three days old. His cousins took him to neighbouring Kenya where he was raised in a refugee camp.
With determination and hard work, he completed high school with exceptional academic standing and was employed as an interpreter by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya. He also worked as a teacher to promote refugee education and was an instructor in a girl’s child education program.
Hazel Claxton, the first and only Black member of PwC’s Canadian Leadership Group, presented the scholarship to Ali.
“He sees a career in accounting as a natural fit with his excellent math skills,” she said. “He’s drawn to the professionalism of the career and he wants to use a career in accounting to assist his community. I have no doubt that given what he has overcome to date and given his determination, he will do anything that he sets his mind to.”
Black History Month evolved from the work of American scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson who, in an attempt to spread the concept of African-American history, suggested its celebration during a week in the middle of February.
He selected February because it was the chosen month of the birth of Frederick Douglass who was born a slave and therefore was unsure of his actual birth date.
Leader of the Official Opposition and Liberal Party of Canada leader Michael Ignatieff presented the inaugural Daniel Hill Community Service award to Jean Augustine who he succeeded as the Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore in 2006.
A human rights pioneer who died in 2003, Hill and his wife Donna along with a few close friends established the OBHS in 1978.
The theme of this year’s Black History Month celebrations is “African Canadian Builders in Canada.”
Ontario’s Health Promotion & Sports Minister Margarett Best and Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor David Onley were among the large audience at the 32nd annual celebration in Toronto.
“African-Canadians longstanding role and contributions to our history makes this a month that all Canadians should celebrate for courage knows no colour, decency and dignity no race,” Onley said.