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

Beyond Black History Month

Lauren Beckford in Conversation with Natasha Henry

themes do you explore with your students?

NH: One theme I often bring in is that of Black contributions to the field of science, for example Black inventors, to bring a different perspective. However, even when there may not be specific ideas or themes, we need to present and help our students to see the content through as many different voices as possible, to represent the experiences and cultures of our students, and the contributions of all Canadians.

Specifically related to African Canadian history, the critical idea is the inclusion of the Black experience in all its diversity. The history of Blacks in Canada is by no means homogeneous. There were free Blacks, those who were enslaved, refugees and immigrants, Black children and Black adults, male and female. Blacks worked in a range of occupations and owned all kinds of business. In a general sense, it’s being conscious of whose stories are told, whose voices we’re silencing, and ensuring everyone is heard.

LB: How do you connect Black history with what is happening around us today – social movements like Black Lives Matter?

NH: Students need to understand that there is a legacy in regards to the enslavement of Africans, the treatment of Blacks in North America and the laws and practices from the Jim Crow era, including here in Canada. The issues that Black people face today are linked to the history of individual, systemic and institutionalized racism. There was a point in time when African people were not considered to be fully human, bought and sold as property, and treated as second-class citizens. What we see happening today is rooted in that history of anti-Black racism and we do an injustice to our students if we try to ignore it, to sweep it under the rug. We need to strive to find age-appropriate ways to make these connections because students do have questions and emotional responses to these issues that are covered in the media. When connections can be made to history, the understanding of why Blacks respond they way they do and why they experience what they do becomes clearer.

There are links too with the current refugee crisis in Syria. In a discussion with a class, one student made the connection between enslaved Blacks who escaped bondage to be free and the refugees from Syria, which opened up a conversation with the whole class. They understood clearly that people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world, who suffer hardships and who are mistreated for who they are, are willing to flee horrible conditions, risk their lives, so they and their families can live better lives. Links can be made in various ways using different themes.

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