The Zion train is coming our way;
Oh, people, get on board! (you better get on board!)
Thank the lord (praise Fari)
I gotta catch a train, 'cause there is no other station;
Then you going in the same direction.
Which man can save his brother's soul?
Oh man, it's just self control.
Don't gain the world and lose your soul
Wisdom is better than silver and gold
Oh, where there's a will,
There's always a way.
Two thousand years of history
Could not be wiped away so easily.
Two thousand years of history (black history)
Could not be wiped so easily.
Oh, children, Zion train is coming' our way; get on board now!
Zion train is coming' our way;
You got a ticket, so thank the lord!
Excerpt from Zion Train (Uprising album released July 1980)
Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley who was born on February 6th, 1945 and transitioned to be with the ancestors on May 11th, 1981 did not know about our decades old struggle in Toronto to establish a public African centered school but in the lyrics of Zion Train he could be singing about that experience. On Tuesday, January 29th, a mere three days before we began the celebration of African Heritage Month and just eight days before Marley’s 63rd birthday, the trustees of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) voted 11 to 9 to establish an alternative African centered school. Our community has been advocating for African centered schools for at least three decades. Many of those advocates have transitioned but those of us who are still here can see the Zion train coming our way. Some do not want to get on board and we do not intend to force them. We can only encourage them to get on board because this is for our children who are not succeeding in the European centered education to have an opportunity to experience success. This will not be a panacea for all that ails our community and the education system but it will give some of our children an opportunity to succeed. There are alternative schools for other groups. The TDSB has a policy which is 40 years old that gives clear direction for groups/communities intent on establishing alternative schools and the white communities have taken advantage of this and have had several alternative schools established to serve the children in their community. They have never had to do the song and dance that our community was forced to endure for several months. The Royal Commission on Learning in 1995 recommended African centered schools to address the high number of African students who disengage from the education system. That recommendation was ignored by the province and the Boards of education. Instead the Board in 1995 decided to establish an alternative school for white gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. In September, 1996, the TDSB established the school in recognition of the high drop out rate of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. There were no public consultations, no deputations to the Trustees, no media circus.
On Tuesday, January 29th, 2008, at the public consultation and deputations to the Trustees around the establishment of an African centred school, people from any community were given an opportunity to give their views on a matter that has distressed our community for many years. These people who will never live in our skin, will never have to experience what our children experience as Africans in North America, felt that they could tell us what is right for our community and how we should feel. One look at the list of deputants should have alerted those who were not African to the fact that our history and experience is unique. Glancing at the list it was not difficult to identify by name who was Asian or even more specifically from which part of Asia. No one could identify by name who was African and who was European because except for two Africans on that list, we all had European names, a testament to the four hundred year enslavement of Africans by Europeans. Most of us (Africans in the Diaspora) do not even know our own names; we carry the names of the white people who enslaved our ancestors. In this country, White people can identify the country in Europe from which their ancestors emigrated, Asians can identify the country from which their ancestors emigrated because they retained their names and in many cases their language. Our ancestors were forcibly removed from their homes, stripped of their names and brutally forced over hundreds of years and many generations to forget their language. No other group of people have been kidnapped from their homes, scattered through out the world, stripped of their names, their language, their culture and had their history obscured for generations. Ripped away from their families and everything familiar, forced to speak European languages, eat their food, worship their gods, it is no wonder the vestiges of that brainwashing lingers in the many colonized minds in our community. Over four hundred years (which translates into several generations) of abuse many Africans were convinced that our history began with slavery. However all the European brainwash education was not successful in wiping away thousands of years of African history, culture and contributions to the civilization of the very Europeans who desperately tried to destroy us during the Maafa, during colonization and even today.
Politicians at Queens Park who are against the idea of African centered school are using their white skin privilege in an effort to deny us what has been given to other groups. Dalton McGuinty is a white male and will never experience any kind of oppression in this country. Kathleen Wynne is a white woman who became involved in politics as a parent activist when the Mike Harris Conservative government threatened her children’s education. She went from parent activist to school trustee to Member of Provincial Parliament where she is now Minister of Education. Elizabeth Witmer was a member of the Mike Harris government when the alternative school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth was established in September 1996. There was no hue and cry, no consultations with the community, no hearings to decide if there should be an alternative school for this group. Most people did not even know that there was an alternative school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth until the brouhaha and resistance to African centered schools. Most people did not know that there was a First Nations school until it was mentioned in the Faulkner Report and one of the white newspapers carried a derogatory article about the school. Dalton McGuinty, his children, his relatives and their children will never have to be concerned about feeling alienated, disenfranchised or disconnected from the curriculum in any educational institution in Canada because they will always learn about their history and culture. Those misguided souls who ask what if there was a school for white people do not seem to realize that every school in this country is for white people. They are not labelled as white schools or European schools or Eurocentric but that is what they are. European history, culture, achievements and contributions are glorified in the schools our children attend. This is so normalized that when any of our children disengage from all the whiteness that is forced down their throats, they are seen as the problem instead of the steady diet of whiteness that is force fed to them beginning in kindergarten when they are four years old and continuing for as many years as they can stomach it. It is Board policy (40 years) that communities can have alternative schools. Why are so many people afraid to see children have an opportunity to be educated outside of the “normal” European centered system? Our tax dollars fund the schools in the public education system, including the alternative schools.
The McGuinty government has an opportunity to support a program that would include the teaching of African history in all schools. The African Heritage Black Cultural Program which began in 1977 at the Toronto Board of Education has never received adequate, sustainable funding from any provincial government. The TDSB grudgingly funds the program and has tried to eliminate and undermine the program which now barely exists in a few schools. The most recent trick in some schools is to relegate the program to half an hour, five days a week at lunch time. This is to ensure that no one will apply for the position and children will be very reluctant to give up their lunch hour to attend class. The McGuinty government is unwilling to fund the schools that we know will make a difference in the lives of some of our children. They are willing to spend millions to build a youth superjail where they can warehouse our youth who are pushed out of school, in a modern day enslavement system. Oh, children, Zion train is coming' our way; get on board now! We cannot let the McGuinty government or anyone else derail this train.
Written in February 2008