A few weeks ago I attended a Diversity Committee meeting at my child’s elementary school. They were, not surprisingly, talking about Black History Month (and Asian Heritage month, also in February now) and what they could do. I’m going to share some of the highlights of that conversation because there was so much that applies more broadly – beyond school and beyond BHM.
Using One’s Voice
One of the teachers suggested a theme of using one’s voice.
That conversation quickly ballooned to include a bulletin board of Black leaders from the past – and present – so that we don’t forget those who are still raising their voices for change now.
I suggested students may want to add their own current-day examples of people they know and how they work for change. It’s so easy to look up to figures like Viola Desmond (now on our Canadian 10$ bill) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and forget the ways “everyday people” use their voices and convictions to help make a difference. It can be easy to think we are “too small” and our efforts “too ordinary or small” to create change. And that’s not only erroneous, it can be dangerous.
Voices That are Missing
The same teacher suggested we consider the voices that are missing. And we had a whole discussion about that; who is missing, how to bring new voices in, and how to discusswho is missing. This included literature and point of view, role models, and ideas that don’t get as much (or any) “air time” in classrooms. Why do they not get as much (or any) airtime? Because we don’t always know they exist (thank you Eurocentric school curriculum). Or, we know about them, but we don’t think of them.
Then the thought of having someone local (and Black ) come and talk to the kids at an assembly came up, and the question posed was: “What will they talk about?”
Ah… typical question when we look at Black identity through the lens of BHM, rather than broadening the idea or concept and infusing it into what we are doing. So, for example, if we consider STEM (or STEAM) days in schools, days when those in science, tech, engineering, arts or math come in and talk to/work with/inspire the kids…what if some of those individuals were Black or of colour (or any other historically disenfranchised group)? Hmmm… then students would see people of diverse genders, cultures, racial identities, ages, abilities, etc while they are doing, sharing or talking about a subject they love. For some students, these more diverse individuals will be people who look like them (and this may be a change from the ordinary). For most students, this diversity will likely be an expanding of who we typically think of when we think of STEM or STEAM.
This makes so much more sense than bringing the Black person in to talk about Black History in February and never seeing a Black person speak at an assembly for the rest of the year.
See what I mean?
What can we do?
It’s easy to highlight something or someone for a time, and then forget.
Or think they are only relevant in a certain context.
What we need to do in order to create more inclusive spaces, where people feel that they belong, is to remember to bring diversity in always – and in all ways.
Let’s see what magic we can create then…