The Mission School District will be holding its first-ever Black Shirt Day today, joining in calls to recognize and support anti-racism movements in B.C.
Mission’s Board of Education unanimously voted to establish Jan. 15 – the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. – as a day devoted to the ongoing civil rights struggle for Black and racialized Canadians.
“It completely lines up with the work we’ve been doing with our equity scan, anti-racism plan and strategic plan,” said Tracy Loffler, board chair. “It’s completely in line with the philosophy of the board.”
Anti-Racism Coalition Vancouver started a petition two months ago calling on Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside to officially designate the day across schools in the province. The petition has gained over 6,700 signatures, with a goal of reaching 10,000.
The move follows the past successes of Orange Shirt Day, which brings awareness to the Indigenous trauma caused by Canada’s residential schools, and Pink Shirt Day, the anti-bullying campaign.
“This year’s inaugural event is very important on two levels,” said a statement from the Anti-Racism Coalition. “It’s a day during which people wear black shirts in recognition of the ongoing struggle for civil rights fought by Black and racialized Canadians, and a day of continued education in schools to combat racism.”
School districts of Surrey, Burnaby, New Westminster, Delta and North Vancouver will also be participating on Jan. 15.
Black Shirt Day organizers are following the momentum of Black Lives Matter protests calling for racial equality in the U.S., which erupted worldwide after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020.
While Loffler couldn’t speak to individual trustee support for the BLM movement, she said the protests have informed their impetus for a specific anti-racism policy.
“We understand that [racism] is systemic. It is a problem here in Canada, people don’t seem to think that it is,” she said.
The board has not been in contact with Anti-Racism Coalition Vancouver, and have not yet signed the petition, Loffler said they were not aware of it at the time of their decision on Dec. 15. She said they may discuss adding their voice to it at future meetings.
Loffler and Superintendent Angus Wilson both said this Jan. 15 would be fairly “low key” due to COVID-19 and a lack of preparation time, but they hope to expand upon it in the future.
In the long run, Wilson said, they hope to bring it to equivalence with Orange Shirt Day, but this year will be focused in individual classrooms, rather than school-wide events. He added it’s important to reach outside the regular curriculum to help students gain perspective.
“It’s really helpful for us in the mainstream to understand things in a different way,” Wilson said. “You could just teach social studies the way you did in 1982 right now, and it would pass muster as far as what the curriculum says.”
Conversations on race are crucial to understanding current events, Wilson said, considering the events at the U.S. Capital Building last week. Many have said the lack of force used on the insurrectionists in comparison to BLM protesters in the summer can be explained by systemic racism.
“[Jan. 7] was absolute evidence of why you need to talk about this stuff,” Wilson said. “Dudes who look like they’re from Duck Dynasty get to walk through congress with stars and bars and Trump flags.”
|Kevin Mills / Mission City Record|