Black History Month celebrations in Jean Vanier C.H.S.

Teachers are challenged to involve students in black history celebrations within the Scarborough school community this month.

Students tend to think history is boring and have no interest in learning about black culture, says Marie Brooks, a youth worker at Jean Vanier Catholic high school.

She is one educator working to overcome the students’ disconnection from black history and says schools should begin by seeing things from students’ perspectives.

“We have to look at how we blend the different cultures because we’re a melting pot here,” she said. “The students tell me about the black history they know, the things they grew up on. They tell me things about Kingston Jamaica, Trinidad, Saint Lucia and other islands they come from.”

Trevon Henderson may be one of the students that educators are trying to reach.

“I would like to see teachers try and relate what’s going on today instead of always making us look back,” the high school sophomore said, standing at a bus stop heading home from school. “I mean, history is always changing. A black president has come into office in the U.S.A. Teach us the great things black people are doing today.”

Black History Month in Toronto is supposed to be a time to celebrate the achievements of Canadians of black and African descent and their contributions to the cultural, economic and political life. It reminds us that African Canadians have been involved in struggles for equal opportunity and fair treatment and challenges the city to address the causes and effects of racism and build an inclusive society.

Jean Vanier teachers are trying to encourage students to get more involved with Black History Month. Earlier this week, the teachers organized a door-decorating contest, which the principal judges at the end of the month. Each door is to represent a form of black or African theme.

“Here at Jean Vanier Catholic High School, we expose the students to different cultures through various music, drumming, dance, poetry and good food,” said Helen Lett-Ricketts, a child and youth worker at the school. “Students of every culture are encouraged to participate in these activities.”

At Jean Vanier, they have their students move with the beat.

“The school has been playing soul music, African music, Island music and some jazz,” Brooks said. “Every morning the school will find music that’s related to the black culture. It comes on during the announcements, so that’s what you’ll hear when you walk into the school every morning, which is nice.”

Students in the drama class are preparing a surprise Black History Month play to showcase to parents, students and teachers in the following week.

Child and youth worker Lett-Ricketts is also trying to get the school community more involved with Black History Month.

“This year, I have invited an entertainer to come in during both lunches to entertain the students with the steel pan,” Lett-Ricketts said. “It’s a very special time for black students to remember their lives, culture and where they come from and most importantly, where they are going.”

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