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Jul 25, 2020 • • 2 minute read
Speakers at the Black Parents Association of Alberta rally of about two dozen people said Black students are mistreated, disrespected and insulted in Alberta schools. They called on school boards to collect racial data tracking schools’ disciplinary actions, to hire and support a diverse pool of teachers, and overhaul curriculums to include more Black history.
Association co-ordinator Dieudonné Bessasse said that every Black parent and student has experienced discrimination in the school system, but more need to speak up and share their stories to create systemic change.
“Parents, students, children are talking about it. We felt it was the right time to actually voice it, to let the schools know about the pain we are going through,” Bessasse told reporters, adding problems are not isolated to one school district.
His mother, Una Momolu, who said her son was racially profiled, was banned from the school for a year after the principal alleged she was aggressive in a subsequent meeting about the incident, which led to the school being put on lockdown and the police called. The district said it recognized it is inappropriate to associate durags with gang affiliation without there being any other indication of gang affiliation.
Momolu spoke at the rally, saying the confrontation spoke to the need for a better understanding of Black history, culture and spiritual symbols. She called on parents to acknowledge what their kids experience, and to be advocates.
“You guys need to listen to your children,” she said.
Hazelyn Williams said when her son, now 28, was 13 and attending an Edmonton school, he was singled out while playing with another student and traumatized by a physical altercation with a teacher, she said.
She’s heard from many other parents who were too intimidated to speak publicly, but said after the rally it was important to “gather the data to fight this,” she said.
Temitope Oriola, associate professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, shared his own experience of micro-aggressions — indirect, subtle, or unintentional incidents of discrimination — in academia. Having low expectations imposed on Black and Indigenous kids, especially by people in positions of authority, stifles students’ potential, he said.
Anecdotal evidence also shows Black students are more likely to be suspended or expelled, and parents feel like their kids are unfairly punished, but there is a lack of statistical data, he said.
“We say to our allies, including many, many teachers, that when you observe unfair treatment in schools, please speak out,” he said.
He called on highly educated Black people in Edmonton to support and advocate for the community. “We can no longer simply retreat to the suburbs. It’s time to get involved.”