Grade 12 student Mackenzie Cox is wearing all black today for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, newly dubbed by the Anti-Racism Coalition based in Vancouver as Black Shirt Day.
Taking inspiration from Pink Shirt Day (for anti-bullying) and Orange Shirt Day (for acknowledging the history and ongoing effects of residential schools), organizers hope the day will bring awareness to anti-racism and civil rights. They are petitioning for the B.C. government to officially recognize Black Shirt Day, but in the meantime schools around the province are already on board.
“We need to make more of a big deal about putting an effort to get to know everyone’s background,” 17 year-old North Island Secondary School student Cox said.
“Here [in Port McNeill] we have the First Nations, so I think it would be important to get to know more of that, and also from other countries so we are more aware and so no one feels left out, or like we don’t care.
“Because we do care, but not showing it, and not talking about it in classes, that’s of course what they’re going to think, that we don’t care.”
She heard of Black Shirt Day just two days ago, so there wasn’t much time to get the school engaged. She went straight to Vice-Principal Ben Donahue for support, who immediately agreed. They made a few announcements, but it’s more of a soft launch before going full throttle next year.
READ MORE: Petition calling for official anti-racism Black Shirt Day gaining traction in B.C.
Donahue is planing to make it an annual occurrence, with resources for teachers and students in hopes that the school can continue to engage in anti-racist learning.
“It’s a chance to raise awareness about racism. Race has an impact on all of our lives. I know during the Black Lives Matter [protests in the summer], it was cool seeing people realizing we’ve still got a lot to learn.
“Especially for me being a white male, there are so many different ways people experience the world, and it’s on me to learn more about it. I think Black Shirt Day is a symbolic way to show we all have a bunch more learning to do,” he said.
Cox is graduating this year and plans to study counselling at the University of Victoria, but hopes the school can continue to participate in things like this.
“A lot of people don’t partake in [the shirt days] because they don’t like orange or the colour pink. I don’t think they understand that even just wearing that colour T-shirt for that day is a commitment to show that we care.”
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Zoë Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Island Gazette