Members of the community, along with staff and students of the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) came together for the third annual Black History Month event on Friday, February 26. Of course, this year’s event took place online, inviting members of the community to watch a live-streamed video, featuring both performances by, and discussions with, WRDSB students. From spoken word, to an original song, the artistic talents of students were on full display for the community to share in their expressions.

The evening began with a spoken word performance from Jomi Oyediran, a student from Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute (CHCI) in Kitchener. The piece, entitled “Just a Young Black Girl,” was inspired by Amanda Gorman’s spoken word performance during the recent US Presidential Inauguration. The piece, which can be viewed on the WRDSB YouTube channel, focuses on Oyediran’s experiences and aims to instill hope for the future.

Director of Education John Bryant was also on hand to bring greetings on behalf of the Senior Team, and share some of the work that has been done to further anti-racism work in the WRDSB, as well as his hopes for the future.

“Events like tonight serve to bring to the forefront issues of anti-Black racism and our collective responsibility to address systemic racism, oppression and bias,” said Bryant. “We have had an unprecedented year, confronting a global pandemic which has further highlighted the disproportionate negative impact on marginalized communities, and we have also experienced a groundswell movement that demands that we recognize that yes, Black Lives Matter, and anti-Black racism is a reality. As a system, we have made a commitment to prioritize the identification and elimination of barriers that Black students, staff and families experience.”

The keynote speaker for the evening was Natasha Henry, current president of the Ontario Black History Society. She is completing a Ph.D. in History at York University, researching the enslavement of African people in early Ontario. Henry spoke about the #BlackedOutHistory campaign, an initiative aiming to raise awareness of how little Black history is taught in Canadian schools and is calling on the provincial governments to update the education curriculum. The campaign uses the visual of a textbook with everything but mentions of Black Canadian History redacted.

“What that left us with were 13 pages, and not necessarily 13 full pages,” said Henry. “It really is a striking visual example to illustrate the ways that Black Canadian history…are marginalized and excluded from textbooks, classrooms and the curriculum.”

The goal of the Ontario Black History Society, Henry explained, is to amplify and reignite the conversation around Black Canadian History and the Ontario curriculum, as well as the long-standing call for mandated learning expectations related to Black Canadian History.

“History and curriculum are…not neutral,” said Henry. “The role of the historical curriculum…is to reaffirm, reinforce, perpetuate these ideas of history.”

Stay tuned for part two of this feature story on the Black Brilliance: Embracing History and Ourselves event.