I wrote this piece a few hours after Amma was born on Bob Marley's 60th birthday. The twins Taiwo and Kehinde were born almost three years later. We were still fighting to get the Toronto District School Board TDSB to establish an Africentric school. And what a fight it was!! There was resistance from the provincial government, there was resistance from white people who did not care that 40% of African Canadian students in TDSB schools were being failed by the education system. Then the racists came out of the woodwork with their vitriolic attacks. There was a dreadful white supremacist cartoon in one of the white newspapers and a senior police officer (Inspector) from the city of Barrie police force sent out an equally white supremacist e-mail to his colleagues with a math problem he thought would be appropriate for an Africentric curriculum. The subject line was: “Afrocentric math for Toronto’s new black only school” and the body resembled a math test with 10 “problems” based on firearms use, drug deals, pimping, theft and other crimes. In 2005 the school was still a dream. We kept fighting to get that school established. Today in 2011, the school is a reality, established in 2009, still suffering some growing pains but Amma, Taiwo and Kehinde are students at the school.
AFRICENTRIC SCHOOL written on February 7, 2005
There has been a great deal of discussion about how our children function in the public schools they attend. The suggestion of Black-focused or African-centered schools has been put forward as a solution to counteract the high dropout rate our children experience.
Black-focused schools, Afrocentric curriculum, African-centered schools, whatever term is used, we need these schools. These schools should have been a reality for at least 20 years now. However, better late than never.
For years, parents, grandparents, caregivers have advocated for schools where our children will learn about themselves and what their ancestors have contributed to the world and the society in which they live. In many of the schools in which our children are educated and often mis-educated, they are subjected to emotional and sometimes physical abuse. Many parents do not know where to go for help when this happens. Some determined parents eventually find the Organization of Parents of Black Children, the Black Secretariat, the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the Black Action Defense Committee or the many other advocacy groups that are either not funded or under-funded.
There are arguments against African-centered schools. Some schools claim that their staff recognize and respond to the multicultural makeup of their school. In many cases, however, the African presence is only recognized during the month of February. For this one month during the year it is acknowledged that we have done "something". In many cases, February is the time people choose to invite Africans to dance, share food and their stories. Sometimes the invited are instructed not to do anything "heavy". It is okay to watch us entertain, but just don't talk about slavery in Canada. Do not mention racism or White supremacy.
It is quite alright for our children to learn all about the exploits of White people. It is very wrong when we want our children to learn about what our ancestors have contributed. Our civilizations are well kept secrets. How many of our children know about Matthew DaCosta? How many know about the Sankore University in Timbuktu? How many know that Lucie and Thornton Blackburn started the first taxicab business in the city of Toronto in 1836? Children thrive in an environment where they are valued, respected, loved. They become withdrawn or belligerent where they are disrespected and abused, whether physically or emotionally.
In an African-centered school the students' culture will be taken into account in every subject and at every grade level. The curriculum will reflect the authentic voice and the lived realities of the students. The concepts in the history, science, mathematics and social studies lessons will reflect African consciousness and contributions. A positive environment reflecting the African-centeredness of the students will encourage them to strive for and achieve excellence. Pride in themselves will encourage the students to take pride in their environment. This will be reflected in the cleanliness of the school, and the images, artwork, posters etc. will be African-centered to reflect the student population. The entire school environment -- including each classroom -- will be an invitation to learn for each student and teacher.
In an African-centered school, discipline will be based on respect for knowledge that reflects and respects the students. The students will respect themselves, the teacher and the other students based on knowledge that they are respected as valued human beings capable of learning and excelling. An African-centered school will be a school where the African culture is respected and celebrated. Students in African-focused schools will understand the historical role Africans have played in world events.
While we label the schools that would be ideal for our students, we do not label the schools they now attend as Eurocentric, and in many cases, White supremacist. The curriculum that is taught in the public school system glorifies European culture, but it is done in a manner that says 'this is mainstream.' It has become so "normal" that we do not question why any culture that is not White is spoken about as the "other". Most illustrations in textbooks are of White-skinned people. The contributions of Africans in the fields of mathematics, science, etc. are not acknowledged.
In an African-focused school our children will learn who they are. They will learn what their ancestors contributed to the world. They will learn about the world travels of ancient African navigators. They will learn that excelling in mathematics and science is very African. They will know that their history is important and central to who they are and not a footnote to European history. These are just some of the reasons why we need African-centered schools, Black-focused schools and Afrocentric curriculum in schools that value our Africanness.
© Written February 7, 2005