Anti-racism group calls for Black Shirt Day in B.C. schools on Jan. 15

The Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver is trying to gather community support for Black Shirt Day on Jan. 15 and to push for more black history in the B.C. school curriculum.

More than 7,800 people have signed a petition on to have the day recognized across the Lower Mainland and the group is hoping for 10,000 signatures.

The group says it's to mark the civil rights struggle of Black Canadians.

Kamika Williams with the Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver grew up in Victoria and says she didn't learn much about Black history, including the underground railroad.

Kamika Williams
Kamika Williams

"Having curriculum on, you know, my history, people who look like me, definitely would have helped to make me feel like I belonged in Canada, like I belonged in Victoria," said Williams.

She said the group missed a Dec. 4 deadline to get its application in to the Ministry of Education to have Black Shirt Day proclaimed on Jan. 15, 2021.

Despite the setback, Williams is hoping to get support from Lower Mainland school districts in order to make it happen.

She is still pushing, through the group's petition, for Black Shirt Day on Friday, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior's birthday.

"The goal behind that is to have, at the very least, one day of mandatory curriculum on Black history and civil rights."

The Ministry of Education said it hasn't received a formal request for Black Shirt Day but supports efforts for school districts to develop their own Black history courses, as the province reviews its own curriculum.

Students taking initiative

School districts in Surrey, Vancouver and Burnaby say some schools are participating in the Black Shirt Day initiative on Friday.

The Burnaby School District says several school staff and students are taking part in their buildings by not only wearing black shirts but by also fostering discussion about civil rights.

Vice-principal Sheila Rawnsley at Marlborough Elementary wrote about what students will be doing to mark the day on the school's website.

"Our Grade 7 students have taken up this work with passion and pride. They are also doing daily announcements over the week leading up to the day, itself, that highlight Black leaders and their works."

The Vancouver School District said it's an opportunity to raise awareness as Black History Month approaches in February and said students have taken the lead in promoting Black Shirt Day at Tyee Elementary and Elsie Roy Elementary.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a national holiday in the United States celebrated on the third Monday of January.