Guest post by LeRoi Newbold, a Director at Black Lives Matter Toronto | Freedom School
For most of us with children entering the school system, back to school is characterized by excitement, nervousness, apprehension–maybe even a little dread. For those of us raising precious Black children there is an extra set of wonders, questions, and concerns.
Carl James of York University recently led a study indicating there is continued mistreatment of Black students in Ontario schools. Early this summer, the Toronto Police Services Board voted to ignore pleas from Black parents and community members to immediately remove the School Resource Officer program, despite concerns the program is predicated on practices of racial profiling. Only later did TDSB respond to pressure from parents to temporarily suspend the program while it is being reviewed. With a rise in white supremacist organizing, a growing number of Black people who are victims of police brutality, and a number of high profile cases of Black children being abused in Ontario schools, many of us are firm in our resolve that the most important thing our Black children need to know is how to get free. This means learning to recognize oppression, stand up for each other, and organize in the community.
This September, the 2nd group of graduates of #BlackLivesMatter – Toronto Freedom School’s summer program returned to their regular posts at a number of public schools across the GTA. Some of them are already too familiar with the types of school experiences that Carl James described in his research. The Freedom School team hopes our babies walk into school with a heightened resolve to love and protect themselves and each other, to advocate for themselves, and demand they be treated with the dignity they deserve. On the first day of Freedom School, we encouraged our children to write affirmations for themselves. We encouraged them to repeat these affirmations daily: “I love myself. I mean every single thing. From the colour of my skin to my soul energy.”
Growing up in Canada, I don’t recall learning about Blackness much in school, but I do recall learning about enslavement. I recall being shown the image of thousands of bodies lying motionless, being transported in the floorboards of slave ships. Never once was I shown an image of revolt, rebellion, or resistance by an enslaved person. We hope our babies learn to identify when pieces of the story are missing. We hope they remembers the names of Marsha P. Johnson, Nanny of the Maroons, Akua Benjamin–those who fought and won. We believe this is crucial to our children’s ability to imagine and believe they can win, and that there could one day be a world without police violence or prisons.
On the last day of Freedom School we gave students phone books to write down the contact information of their fellow freedom fighters and comrades in the program. We wish for our children to feel stronger knowing they have a family who loves and supports them. Not only their blood family, but a community of people who believe that #BlackLivesMatter– a community of people who will fight for them. We hope that if our children are ever singled out, made to stand in a corner, or feel shame for having made a mistake, they will remember the processes we went through to solve problems with dignity, by talking it out and by holding each other accountable. We believe our children are brilliant, creative, resilient, and powerful beyond belief, and that they are ready to not only take on the school year, but the educational system. We only hope the GTA’s educators and schools are ready to receive them.