EMSB sees 2021 as pivotal year for marking Black History Month
Given the many high-profile acts of racial violence in 2020, Black History Month activities scheduled at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) for February will take on even more significance.
At a Council of Commissioners meeting in December 2020, the EMSB adopted a formal resolution to formally recognize Black History Month.
Though schools observe Black History Month every year, EMSB Chair Joe Ortona says this year is particularly important. “There were a number of events that occurred that make us seriously reflect on issues of race,” he commented. “Though many of the more widely reported events took place in the US, we have issues here as well. These tragedies spark outrage all over the world. We are witnessing a coming-together of people to denounce racial injustice, and we wanted to show our commitment by voting on and passing a resolution, which we did unanimously.”
Mr. Ortona also highlights a bright spot. “We’ve also been proud recently, at the EMSB, that one of our high school graduates, Kamala Harris, was sworn in as Vice President of the United States,” he said.
Among the affirmations council members voted for was the importance of observing Black history throughout the school year “to recognize both disparities and opportunities in working towards greater equity in our schools, in the community and throughout the education system.” It is also an opportunity for schools to “reflect on, commemorate and celebrate the contributions of African Canadians and Quebecers from all walks of life throughout our history” and teach students about pride in heritage and identity.
Because of COVID-19, special guests are not allowed into schools, so they will bring their presentations virtually to students this year. Presentations are being planned from Youth Stars, Youth Leaders of Tomorrow, Fatima Wilson and her Steelpan Band, Egbert Gaye, Black Theatre Workshop and special activities lead by EMSB Spiritual and Community Animators, including a scavenger hunt, podcast, quote of the day and a portable museum.
Also for the first time, the board’s Spiritual and Community Animation Services (SCAS) is creating a Black History Month presentation available for its animators to use during the month of February, and for teachers to use recorded versions all year long. It is intended to provide an overview of Black History Month, and be an entry point into a conversation about Black history. Students will engage in stories and videos about Black Canadians, through lens of character strengths, and take part in activities that encourage reflection on identity and representation.
To inform its programming, the SCAS team invited Dr. Dorothy Williams, a Montreal PhD historian specializing in Black History in Montreal and Canada more broadly, to speak with them in January. “We wanted to do the exercise of filling the gaps in our knowledge and programs in relation to Black history and community, so we can continue to work towards programming that is relevant and meeting the needs of our students and community,” says Danika Swanson, the EMSB’s Spiritual and Community Animation Services Consultant. “We are using precious take-aways from the workshop with Dr. Williams to facilitate discussion, increase knowledge and comfort level in order to encourage conversations in classroom about language, identity, heritage and diversity. It’s important to create a space for difficult conversations where people can talk, make mistakes and learn together – about ourselves and each other.”
EMSB School Library Services is also pleased to announce it will be releasing a curated, virtual library of dedicated collections for Black History sources from the National Film Board of Canada, Idéllo, CBC and Radio Canada’s Curio, TumbleBooks and Sora. These online collections will be promoted to the library personnel in each of our schools as well as to the board’s educational consultants.
About the English Montreal School Board
With a youth and adult sector population of more than 37,000 students, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English public school board in Quebec. It was established in July 1998, when the province of Quebec created new boards along linguistic lines. The EMSB network consists of 77 schools and centres. For more details, visit www.emsb.qc.ca.