Raising Black Voices, hosted by the Burnaby School District, welcomed a series of speakers and artists in a virtual youth conference on February 17. The students - from throughout Metro Vancouver - heard a video address from the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black woman to be elected as a member of Parliament in Canada. While in office, Augustine called for February to be designated Black History Month in the country – and received unanimous support.
Kamika Williams, chairperson of the Anti-racism Coalition of Vancouver and organizer of Black Shirt Day, delivered a keynote address. Cecily Nicholson, an author and poet, shared excerpts from her book Wayside Sang, and Khari Wendell-McClelland, a performer, activist, and organizer sang Hymn to Freedom by Oscar Peterson and Song of the Agitators, accompanied by an electric guitar. A Grade 8 student in Burnaby then shared a poem inspired by Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb. Gorman was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate in the United States in 2017, and recently read The Hill We Climb at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden.
The students then shared their thoughts on questions like, “How does the media contribute to colourism?”; “What is it like to be one of a few Black students in a school?”; “How do you see White privilege at your school and how does it impact your lived experience?”; and “Why do you think some people are comfortable using the “N” word in school?”
Dylan Dueck is a student at John Oliver Secondary who was on the panel. He shares his thoughts after participating:
“I was recently invited to speak on a panel for Black History Month. I had a variety of feelings that were simultaneously overwhelming and euphoric. I felt excited to share my personal story but also had feelings of dread with the responsibility of being the voice for all racialized students.
I feel equally like the right and wrong person to be speaking about the experiences of all the youth who fall under this category. Questions like “Am I Black enough? Am I smart enough? Am I knowledgeable enough?” entered my mind.
But why not me? I am biracial. My skin is light but my identity is Black. This became blatantly apparent to me when the N-word was used against me after calling out a bully. It changed me. Changed me in a way that has propelled me into meaningful activism. I intend to share my story and lend my voice to support those who are afraid because I KNOW what it feels like to be shamed and marginalized.
I am not here to tell people how to be. I am here to share my story and be heard. This panel allowed for meaningful discussion to occur. It was an opportunity for the panel to feel safe, supported and seen. I hope these discussions can continue past February so that we can be more empathic and inclusive of everyone.”