Updated: Sep 18, 2019
One student’s courage to speak up about racism at her school has created a ripple effect within her community. In fact, her story has gathered attention from across the country and beyond. In her efforts to create change in the way her school was dealing with a racist incident (as seen in our first article), she inspired others in her community to speak up on this issue and it has been gaining momentum ever since. There are several advocacy groups and community associations who are not just supporting her, but taking the lead so she no longer has to.
This student has spent a lot of time working towards change and has had to deal with some backlash at the same time. She has continued working with the VSB diversity committee, helped with the awareness assembly and lunch time forum she proposed as well as field calls from the press. She has spent more time talking with administrators about their efforts to move on from the incident and work on restorative measures. Photos of her were posted online and more racist comments were made by other students. All this, while trying to do schoolwork, other commitments and just be a teen. She has, in fact, taken time off, due to the environment currently at school. Although this has been a difficult time, she said that, on a positive note, there has been more unity among the black students in her school.
Her mother has been dealing with much of this too; from trying to help her daughter cope with this ordeal to communicating with the school about their decisions she didn’t agree with. She said she is upset that her daughter is being pulled from class for meetings without her knowledge and is also tired of attending meetings at the school because they don’t want to put things in writing. It has been a lot to manage, so she was grateful for the support. Other parents, community leaders, government officials, youth advocates and other organizations all taking up the charge. Vancouver’s City Manager even released an unprecedented statement to the entire city staff of more than 8,000 people. (Letter below)
On Dec. 9th, several organizations from the black community, such as the Hogan’s Alley Society, the Unity Centre Assn. for Black Cultures, the National Congress of Black Women Foundation and more, came together with Speak Up Youth Forums to discuss this incident and the growing problem of racism in BC schools. Several group members shared stories of their children dealing with racism and memories of the racism they dealt with in their own childhood. They feel that schools are not doing enough to deal with incidents of racism and hate crimes and are working on ways to create the changes they feel are needed.
On Monday, Dec. 17th, the Vancouver School Board held a meeting. This is the 2nd VSB meeting (as well as a PAC meeting) attended by supporters of this anti-racism effort. The Lord Byng incident was not on the agenda, so there was difficulty getting time to speak, even after waiting for the open question period, but they spoke up anyway; not just the black community, but several others of various ethnic backgrounds. One key voice was former school trustee and human rights activist, Sadie Kuehn. With racially charged hate crimes continuing to rise in schools and no end in sight, they weren’t going to accept the status quo.
One success noted that evening was when the school board voted, unanimously, to give this incident full merit, by calling it a “hate crime”. Next was to go from words to actions. What were they going to do to keep students safe from the boy who committed this hate crime? A student who, by the school board’s own code of conduct (Violent Threat Risk Assessment -Appendix D), showed “High-risk behaviours”. The current assessment of “there is no threat” was not going to be accepted and the gap between the school saying it was safe and students not feeling safe needed to close.
When the school board said they would get back to everyone via email, voices erupted. Sound and video feed to online viewers had cut out during these times, but after several complaints, members of the board took a few supporters out into the hall to listen and ask them what suggestions they had to close this gap. Here is a video with former community liaison for the Provincial Hate Crimes Unit, Randi-Lee Taylor leading the charge.
(this is not our video)
The end result was that the VSB would gather a committee and consult with community members to work on a resolution. That is something!
On the other side, the school and school board, along with the VPD and consultants have done what they can to support the boy who created the racist video. Whether or not they decide to allow him to return to the school, they have a duty to support him too. Many are wondering how he got to a place where he hates black people so much that he wants to kill them with a bomb, but hope that he can learn from this, understand that is not a healthy mindset and take steps to becoming a better member of society. Due to privacy laws, the school would not be able to let anyone know if he is taking any steps, so how can the school ensure students feel safe?
Ultimately, many in the community feel that there must be a line drawn with the “zero-tolerance” policy. They feel that if someone voicing and posting that they want to kill people with a bomb isn’t enough, what is? If roles were reversed and the boy was black making those statements about white people, would the assessment be the same? How can a school allow anyone, who has stated such a threat, into a school full of young people? Hate crimes continue and the media is full of tragedies that occur after schools ignore signs and they don’t want to see that happen here.
These advocates and the growing group of community supporters will continue their efforts until their voices are heard and changes are made. It started with one voice speaking up and inspired unity, community and change, not just in one school, but hopefully throughout Vancouver and beyond. Ripple effect!
Letter from the City Manager:
Vancouver is situated on the unceded homelands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples and prides itself as being one of the most diverse cities in the world. While we have much to celebrate, we also must acknowledge that racism still exists in our city.
We know that racialized discrimination and threats of violence create trauma that results in psychological, physical, spiritual, social and economic harm, and reduces life chances. We have recognized this in our work on Reconciliation with Indigenous communities and in our historic apology to the Chinese community, and in our longstanding awareness of and active responses to antisemitism. This same commitment to dignity and equity can be seen in our work to address discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
From past to present – and most recently in the last few weeks – incidents of anti-Black racism in Vancouver have been reported by members of the Black community. These incidents involve hate speech and threats of racialized violence against black youth. We must acknowledge that anti-Black racism exists in Vancouver and consider what action we can implement within our work as the City to address this issue.
As the impacts of racism faced by Black communities become more visible to the wider residents of Vancouver and to City staff, and we begin to better understand unconscious bias and how it manifests in society, we have an opportunity to address anti-Black racism and the disproportionate traumatic impact these incidents have on Black youth and members of the Black community.
Through the work of many people involved in Hogan’s Alley and a number of other community-driven initiatives, we continue to deepen our understanding of the experiences and values of Vancouver’s Black community. As we end the year and look forward to celebrating Black History Month in February, it is a good time to reflect on how these activities contribute to recognizing the history and importance of the Black community in Vancouver, how anti-Black racism and racial bias continues to impact this community, and what further action the City might take to address this inequity.
In the next year, facilitated by ACCS, City departments will be working together to develop an Equity Framework that will seek to deepen the City’s commitment to equity for those impacted by intersecting barriers to full participation in society and to reaching their full potential. Within the context of this work, we will initiate efforts to address anti-Black racism as a societal issue, reaching out to other public sector partners, community organizations, and people with lived experience to better understand the Vancouver context and to find Vancouver responses. We see this as complementing both our work on Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and on the Chinatown revitalization efforts arising from last year’s historic apology to Vancouver residents of Chinese descent.
To our staff who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of colour and to our wider community, I affirm that as a City we condemn all acts of hate speech and racialized violence. We condemn racism and will continue working to eliminate it in all its forms in our city.
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