Public schools across Nova Scotia held their first Black Excellence Day on Friday, which recognizes the ongoing struggles of Black Canadians and celebrates their achievements.
Staff and students were encouraged to wear black to show support for more inclusive and equitable education.
Marlene Ruck Simmonds, the executive director for the African Canadian services branch of the Department of Education, said the idea started after the province released its BLAC Report on Education in 1994.
The BLAC Report on Education: Redressing Inequity, Empowering Black Learners was put together by a committee that reviewed the education of Black Nova Scotians and made recommendations for improvements to the education system.
"In that seminal report, we heard very loud and clearly from members of the Black communities that Black children were brilliant, that they were endowed with gifts and talents, and that it was their expectation and the expectation of community members that the Nova Scotia public educational system be constructed in a way that would allow Black students to achieve their potential," Ruck Simmonds told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Friday.
Ruck Simmonds said the report stated Black students who were enrolled in Nova Scotia's public system were faced with differential treatment, inequitable access and barriers to achievement.
"Black Excellence [Day] contributes to realizing the vision that began in the BLAC Report by recognizing African Nova Scotian students and their talents and their gifts and their achievement," she said.
"But it also paves the way and helps people to understand the ongoing leadership that is happening within the system by Black educational leaders — historical as well as the current — and their allies throughout the province that are working diligently to ensure that African Nova Scotian students have opportunities that inspire them."
Listen to Information Morning's full interview here:
One example is the Africentric mathematics class that was started by Karen Hudson, the principal at Auburn Drive High School in Dartmouth, N.S. The classes are made up of only African Nova Scotian students.
"Through her leadership, students that are attending the Auburn High School have shifted and made remarkable, outstanding gains in terms of not only their entrance into university, but also on enrolment into advanced placement."
Kyle Colley, a Black student at Auburn Drive High, wasn't in the math class with his African Nova Scotian classmates. He said it felt "different" being the only Black student in his class.
"I don't mind talking to new people, but it just felt kind of different," he said. "And then when I got to be in the African English [class], it was cool to be in a class with a bunch of my peers."
Ruck Simmonds said Black students are often more comfortable learning when they're among peers and "immersed in culturally responsive and linguistically responsive educational spaces."
She also said more needs to be done within the public school system, including hiring more African Nova Scotian teachers and teachers of colour to increase representation.
To do this, she said the department is supporting an Africentric early childhood education program and a bachelor of education teacher scholarship that is available to African Nova Scotians who are interested in teaching.
"We know representation matters and our inclusive education also compels everyone to be able to create those safe spaces for our children while they are in the classroom," she said.
Although Colley didn't get to participate in the Africentric math class, he said he's happy Black Excellence Day is being celebrated.
"I feel happy that there's a day that's focused on people like us, of the African descent. It's long overdue."
Ruck Simmonds said Black Excellence Day will continue to be celebrated on May 15 each year, giving the public, staff and students more time to engage in activities and advocacy work during the school year.
"It's not just the day — Black excellence occurs throughout the school year."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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