Natasha Henry standing in front of lockers
Natasha Henry standing in front of lockers

Beyond Black History Month

Lauren Beckford in Conversation with Natasha Henry

a Black History Month assembly, a teacher for a grade 2 class developed a script for her students to present in first-person as various African Canadians, past and present. I suggested the focus on Blacks in Canada because there is always this tendency to teach about African Americans

in Canadian classrooms, disregarding the rich, storied history that Blacks have here. The students dressed up in role, and presented their lines speaking as the person they were assigned, for instance, “I am Harriet Tubman,” “I am George Dixon,” “I am Elijah McCoy,” or “I am Viola Desmond.” They went on to share a few of that person’s challenges and accomplishments. They connected with the narratives they learned about and presented so well that even today, four years later, many of those students remember the person with a sense of pride and accomplishment. African Canadian students don’t always get the chance to see these images, these historical connections to themselves, particularly within the Canadian context. As educators, we talk about culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy and students seeing themselves in the curriculum. I feel it helped bring a sense of cultural relevancy to the students at the time.

LB: Do you integrate Black history into all aspects of the curriculum or just Social Studies?

NH: In the past, I’ve made connections with students in science introducing students to inventors or scientists who are Black. I’ve also introduced Black novelists in Language Arts to broaden the scope of how Blacks are represented. For History and Geography, you can make connections with immigration and the movement of Blacks into Canada, which continues today. A specific activity I did with my students was using historical information on Africville, N.S. to explore the ideas presented in the novel  Last Days of Africville , a story of Africville seen through the eyes of one young girl.

LB: How does writing and doing research on Black history fit into your teaching practice?

NH: It fits into my teaching practice in many ways. First, it enhances my ability to diversify the presentation of the curriculum and enables me to deliver a more culturally responsive program. It also makes me more cognizant of the omissions and gaps in content. Incorporating the experiences of Blacks into my teaching helps my students develop critical thinking skills. Many questions arise when they encounter some of the information for the first time and they become engaged in finding out the answers. Another way it fits is in doing my part in implementing the government-mandated equity agenda. We can’t talk about equity and social justice without looking at and gaining an indepth understanding of Black experience in Canada, without including these stories.

LB: What specific ideas and


Illustration by Kara Sievewright

Francesca Alfano talks about volunteering with Books to Bars, using her skills and passion as a teacher-librarian to bring books and reading programs to incarcerated women.

Grade six heritage project with old photographs

As an anthropology graduate I have always enjoyed learning not only about other cultures but about my own as well. I was keenly interested in finding a way to pass that curiosity on to my own students in a way that engaged them in significant discussions about racism, tolerance, and identity.