Where Abolition Meets Action

black and white photo of butterfly

A History of Women Organizing Against Gender Violence

By Vikki Law (Adapted for The Peak by Sonali Menezes

There is a growing movement toward abolishing prisons. Anti-violence organizers are calling on prison abolitionists to take gender violence seriously in developing initiatives to address the problem within this context. Fuelled by increasing recognition that women of colour, immigrant, queer, transgender, poor, and other marginalized women are often further brutalized – rather than protected – by the police, grassroots groups, and activists throughout the world, are organizing community alternatives to calling 911. These initiatives are not new. Throughout history, women have acted and organized to ensure their own as well as their loved ones’ safety.

This article examines both past and present models of women’s community self-defence practices against interpersonal violence by exploring methods women have employed to protect themselves, their loved ones, and theircommunities. Storytelling to connect past, present, and future efforts to current initiatives allows us to both envision a future in which police and prisons are not the sole solutions to gender violence and to know that such possibilities can – and, in some small pockets, do or did – exist. While activists and others increasingly embrace the idea of community-based accountability as an alternative to the police, many have difficulty envisioning what accountability processes might look like.

Storytelling to Connect Past, Present and Future

In 2004, Mimi Kim launched Creative Interventions, a resource centre to promote community-based responses to interpersonal violence. The group developed STOP (StoryTelling and Organizing Project), a resource for people to share their experiences with community-based accountability models and interventions to domestic violence, family violence, and sexual abuse. In their 2001 statement on gender violence and incarceration, Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Colour Against Violence challenged communities to not only come up with ways to creatively address violence, but also to document these processes: ‘Transformative practices emerging from local communities should be documented and disseminated to promote collective responses to violence’ (Critical Resistance and INCITE!,2001). By connecting past and current organizing initiatives from across the globe, ‘Where Abolition Meets Actions’ hopes to contribute to the conversations around safety and abolition as well as inspires readers to organize in their own communities.

The 1970s (women’s liberation: defending themselves and each other)

Women’s liberation movements of the 1970s allowed women to begin talking openly about their experiences of sexual assault. Discussions led to a growing realization that women need to take their safety into their own hands and fight back.

Some women formed street patrols to watch for and prevent violence against women. In Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, members of Women’s Liberation group Cell 16 began patrolling the streets where women often left their factory jobs after dark. Students at Iowa State University and the University of Kentucky responded, forming patrols on their campus. The lack of police and judicial response to gender violence led to increasing recognition that women needed to learn to physically defend themselves from male violence.

In 1969, Cell 16 established Tae Kwan Do classes for women. Unlike existing police offered self-defense classes that promoted fear rather than empowerment,Cell 16’s classes challenged students to draw the connections between their learned sense of helplessness and their role in society as women (Lafferty & Clark, 1970, pp. 96–97).

In 1974, believing that all people had the right to live free from violence and recognizing that women were often disproportionately impacted by violence, Nadia Telsey and Annie Ellman started Brooklyn Women’s Martial Arts (BWMA) in New York City. ‘I have felt that it [self-defense] is connected to self-determination,’ stated Ellman. By the mid-1970s, the concept of women’s self-defense had become so popular that women began taking training into their own hands to protect them from violence. Some of the programs and schools founded in the 1970s, such as the BWMA (renamed the Center for Anti-Violence Education or CAE in 1989) and Feminists in Self-Defense Training (FIST) in Olympia, Washington, continue teaching women’s self-defense today.

Although much of the 1970s rhetoric and organizing around gender violence presupposed that women were attacked by strangers, women also recognized and organized against violence perpetrated by those that they know, including spouses and intimate partners. In Neu-Isenburg, a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, a group of women called Fan-Shen decided that, rather than establish a shelter for abused women, they would force the abuser out of the house. When a woman called the local women’s shelter, the group arrived at her home to not only confront her abuser, but also occupy the house as round-the-clock guards to the woman until her abuser moved out. When the strategy was reported in 1977, Fan-Shen had already been successful in five instances (‘Women’s Patrol,’ 1977, p.18).

Anti-violence organizing in communities of color

Communities of colour in the USalso developed methods to ensure women’s safety without relying on a system that has historically ignored their safety or further threatened it by using gender violence as a pretext for increased force, brutality, and mass incarceration against community members. In 1979, when Black women were found brutally murdered in Boston’s primarily Black Roxbury and Dorchester neighbourhoods, residents organized the Dorchester Green Light Program. The program provided identifiable safe houses for women who were threatened or assaulted on the streets. Program coordinators, who lived in Dorchester, visited and spoke at community groups and gatherings in their areas. Residents interested in opening their homes as safe houses filled out applications, which included references and descriptions of the house living situation. The program screened each application and checked the references. Once accepted, the resident attended orientation sessions, which included self-defense instruction. They were then given a green light bulb for their porch light; when someone was at home, the green light was turned on as a signal to anyone in trouble. Within eight months, over 100 safe houses had been established (Dejanikus & Kelly, 1979, p.7).

At a 1986 conference on ending violence against women at UCLA, Beth Richie spoke about a community-based intervention program in East Harlem, a New York neighbourhood that was predominantly Black and Latino. Community residents organized to take responsibility for women’s safety. ‘Safety watchers’ visited the house when called by the abused person or the neighbours. They encouraged the abuser to leave; if the abuser refused, the watchers stayed in the house. Their presence prevented further violence, at least while they were present. One attendee noted; ‘in these communities, people do not call the police fearing more violence from the police. Men are not going to jail because the communities are working together’ (Bustamante, 1986, p.14).

Contemporary organizing against gender violence

Recent legislation, such as the US Violence Against Women Act (1994), recognizes the problem of gender violence and seeks to increase police responsiveness but does little to protect women who are politically, economically, or socially marginalized. Instead, the focus on criminalization and incarceration often places them at further risk of both interpersonal and state violence as well as of arrest, incarceration, and, for immigrant women, deportation (Critical Resistance and INCITE!, 2001).

Knowing this, women have acted both individually and collectively to defend themselves. Sex workers, for instance, have organized in different ways to protect themselves from violence.

In March 2006, police responded to the murders of three sex workers in Daytona Beach, Florida, by cracking down on  the sex trade. Recognizing that the police response did more to target than to protect them,street-based sex workers armed themselves with knives and other weapons to protect themselves and each other and to find the killer. In 1995, Stella Sex Workers Alliance was formed in Montréal by sex workers, public health researchers, and sympathizers. Sex workers are equipped with information and support to help them keep safe. Stella compiles, updates, and circulates a Bad Tricks and Assaulters list, enabling sex workers to share information and avoid dangerous situations. They also produce and provide free reference guides that cover working conditions, current solicitation laws, and health information. Stella also advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, recognizing that the criminalization renders sex workers vulnerable to both outside violence and police abuse (Stella, n.d.).

Sex workers are also taking direct action to stop sex trafficking. In 1997, former sex workers began guarding checkpoints along the Nepal–India border to rescue adolescent Nepalese girls from being smuggled into India. The idea emerged with the women living at Maiti Nepal, a home in Kathmandu for women returning from Indian brothels. Many of the women, who had been kidnapped as adolescents and sold into the sex industry, were ashamed and angry about their experiences and wanted to transform their anger into action. They set up four guard posts along the border and began monitoring for human trafficking. During the first three years, the women caught 70 traffickers, saving 240 girls from India’s brothels.

Women marginalized by other factors, such as racism and poverty, have also organized to protect themselves against both interpersonal and state violence. In 2000, the police murders of two young women of colour sparked a dialogue about violence against women among members of Sista II Sista, a collective of women of colour in Brooklyn, New York. Their response was to form Sistas Liberated Ground, a zone in their neighbourhood where crimes against women would not be tolerated. ‘…Our dependence on a police system that was inherently sexist, homophobic, racist, and classist did not decrease the ongoing violence against women we were seeing in our neighbourhoods. In fact, at times, the police themselves were its main perpetrators,’ members of the group stated in 2007 (Burrowes, Cousins, Rojas, & Ude, 2007, p.229).

They instituted an ‘action line,’ which women could call, to explore the options that they – and the group – could take to address violence in their lives. Sister Circles were also established where women could talk about violence and other problems in their daily lives and encouraged the community – rather than the individual woman – to find solutions. In one instance, a woman at the Sister Circle talked about the man who had been stalking her for over a year and, in response,members of the Sister Circle confronted the man at the barbershop where he worked. His male co-workers told the stalker that, if he continued to harass the woman, he would be fired, so he stopped stalking her (Ude, 2006).

Creating communities to deter violence

Not all strategies to prevent gender violence are easily classified as ‘policing from below.’ Some grassroots groups and coalitions recognize that building communities is the first line of defense against violence and are organizing to create social structures and support networks that can collectively address harmful situations. In Durham, North Carolina, in the aftermath of the 2006 rape of a Black woman by members of a Duke University lacrosse team, women of colour and survivors of sexual violence formed the UBUNTU coalition. UBUNTU works to ‘facilitate a systematic transformation of our communities until the day that sexual violence does not occur’ (UBUNTU). Alexis Pauline Gumbs noted: [Our] responses [to violence] were invented on the spot … without a pre-existing model or a logistical agreement. But they were also made possible by a larger agreement that we as a collective of people living all over the city are committed to responding to gendered violence…I think it is very important that we have been able to see each other as resources so that when we are faced with violent situations we don’t think our only option is to call the state. (Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2008, p.81)

UBUNTU members began organizing around the idea of a Harm-Free Zone – an area in which violence would be addressed by the community rather than by the police. ‘A lot of times we talk about community as if it already exists, but I don’t actually think that we have autonomous, completely sustained community. We live with all sorts of dependence on the state, [on] outside institutions. We have a lot of work to do to have the type of communications and support that would fulfill the needs of our community,’ stated Gibbs in 2009. Like the Dorchester Green Light Program, organizers of the Harm-Free Zone brought these ideas to the communities of which they were already a part. ‘Those of us who came together were already working in those settings…for each of us, we’re thinking about how we bring that analysis and that ideal into our preexisting communities.’

Conclusion

Many early anti-violence efforts addressed immediate instances of gender violence, often focusing on the physical aspects of self-defence or a direct response to violence. Women’s organizations taught self-defense classes, confronted abusers and assailants, and formed protective groups to escort each other safely through the streets. In contrast, contemporary organizing often utilizes a multi-layered approach, creatively addressing not only immediate instances of violence but also creating dialogue to challenge and change some of the root causes of gender violence. Despite these differences, each project emphasizes the importance of community – as opposed to individual – actions and responses. None of these projects would have succeeded without a collective sense of responsibility toward each other.

While not every project and group explicitly identifies as an abolitionist group, their practices work toward a radical re-envisioning of creating safety without relying on police. These models are important for imagining and then realizing abolitionist principles.

By examining the variety of approaches in their vastly different contexts, we can begin to connect the abstract ideal with concrete actions that make another world possible. We should be drawing lessons from these projects and approaches to create models that work for our own locations and communities.


Victoria Law is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison, and a proud parent. She has written extensively about the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance for various news outlets, including Al Jazeera America, Bitchmedia, The Guardian, The Nation and Truthout.

Sonali is a little brown femme living in southern Ontario. She’s a student, artist, zinester, and maker of things through her itty bitty-business GlitteringMagpiee. She enjoys living gently and cuddling with her cat.

School – to – Prison Pipeline

illustration of the school to prison pipeline complex

How does the education system and the school-to-prison pipeline contribute to the over representation of black people in the Criminal Justice system?

by Chinwe Nwebube

The school to prison pipeline is a term used to describe the push of students out of schools and into prisons and represents a failure in our current education system. Black students are disciplined more harshly and often achieve lower marks due to disparities in teaching and treatment. Therefore, the school to prison pipeline can be considered a leading factor in the overrepresentation of black folks within the prison system. At its core, the school to prison pipeline is a result of the education system’s inability to meet the needs of its students. Specifically, the presence of anti-black racism in the education system has resulted in the large flow of the pipeline. Anti-black racism is global, insidious, and pervasive. It is the hate and fear of black people which in turn, drives national politics. This increases the representation of black people in prisons. Due to a system that is fundamentally driven by the dehumanization and exploitation of black bodies, there is a lack of effective and unbiased systems within the school. Ultimately there is a disparity between the degree of discipline between white and black students. A school system rooted in anti-black racism, discriminatory discipline and discrepancies in quality of education are factors that will be further examined in order to understand the role the pipeline plays in moving black youth directly to juvenile facilities and prisons.

School System Rooted in Anti-Black Racism

Critical race theory states that racism is a “normal and ingrained feature of our landscape” because racial privilege and related oppression are deeply established from both our history and our law (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The legal formation of race has produced systemic economic, political and social advantages for whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The abolition of slavery did not abolish the hidden racism in the law, but rather, created new methods of redirecting the law in favor of whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008).

The ideal instructor in society is one that has the ability to teach without bias or influence from the educational systems; One that would provide equal and substantial instruction to all students. Evidently this is not the case, as societal hierarchies and power dynamics based on race play too strong of an influence. The majority of instructors today in the United States are white women. These instructors often enter the education system with preconceived notions regarding students of colour and of low socioeconomic status (Irizarry 2010). Their curriculum reflects this idea and reinforces these stereotypical identities rather than challenge concepts of discrimination and oppression (Irizarry 2010). Due to this traditional Western mindset, many teachers are aversively racist. Aversive racists claim that they do not hold prejudice based on race however subconsciously feel unease towards people of colour (Irizarry 2010). Since instructors are unaware of their ineffectiveness in the classroom, it is difficult for change to occur in these institutions. The products of aversive racism in the classroom are disparities in the discipline and teaching of white students compared to students of colour.

Discriminatory Discipline

The school to prison pipeline flows in one direction. When black students are involved in the criminal justice system, it is difficult for them to re-enter the education system. There are policies set in place that encourage police presence at schools as well as harsher tactics, and automatic punishments that result in suspensions (Teaching Tolerance 2015). These “tough on crime” policies are large contributors to the flow of the pipeline (Teaching Tolerance 2015). Studies show that African Americans have a higher chance of suspension, expulsion and arrest than white students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Black students only make up 16% of the overall juvenile population in the United States yet make up 45% of juvenile arrests (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). When students of colour and white students commit the same offence, students of colour have a higher chance of being suspended, expelled or arrested for committing the same act (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, in 2006 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Native American students claiming discriminatory discipline towards these groups of students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). They alleged that it is was three times more likely for a Native American student to be suspended and twelve times more likely for them to be reported to the police, than a white student (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The ACLU found many instances in which discriminatory discipline occurred (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, a Native American student was arrested for putting a white student in a headlock and stating “he would break his neck”. However, a white student told a Native American girl that he wanted to “kill Indians” and see her “blood all over” and was not arrested (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). In another example, regarding the case of Sherpall v. Humnoke School District No. 5, the federal court found that the Arkansas school district discipline system was racially discriminatory (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Teachers in Arkansas referred to black students as “niggers”, “blue gums”, and “coons” (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). It has been argued that higher rates of expulsions for students of colour may correlate to high rates of bad behaviour in school (Skiba et al. 2002). If so, the disparity in punishments would not be of racial bias (Skiba et al. 2002). Since there have been no such studies investigating this theory, one cannot argue that high rates of disruptive behaviour is valid reasoning for the disproportionality in punishments (Skiba et al. 2002).

The aversive racists placed in a teaching position, though subconscious, feel unease towards students of colour. These teachers have preconceived notions of blackness being threatening and dangerous due to an inherent fear of black people. This has been reinforced through a singular narrative that describes a monolithic black experience. They have a deep rooted fear of black students: a result of our country being built on the foundation of anti-black racism. In order to eliminate the threat of black students in the school permanently, they are lead into prisons by any means possible. As previously discussed, this includes more tough-on-crime policies and harsher disciplinary action. The close surveillance of poor black neighborhoods by police is a strategic way to target these communities and schools. As a result of white supremacy, black folks live in conditions that have made them more vulnerable to criminal activity and arrest. Discriminatory discipline can be considered a leading contributor to the school to prison pipeline ultimately resulting in a higher incarceration rate of black individuals. Discriminatory discipline is only a factor because of the creation of aversive racists due to an anti-black racist rooted education system. If anti-black racism could be eliminated from the education system, it is possible to greatly decrease the overall flow of the pipeline.

Discrepancies in Quality of Education

Higher incarceration rates are a combination of “tough-on-crime” policies in the criminal justice system and a lack of quality education that provides needed skill for employment (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Hirschi’s control theory states that society is a set of institutions that act to control and regulate rule-breaking behaviour (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). If an individual is bonded to society and conventional activities, they will not engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). People abide by the law because they are tied to conventional society by social bonds; Social bonds are the degree to which an individual is integrated into the ideals and social ties of the community (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The weaker the social bonds, the more likely an individual is to engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The lack of involvement in conventional activities results in a higher chance of crime participation (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Unemployment due to a lack of education will decrease the degree to which an individual is involved in these conventional activities (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). As a result, one is more likely to engage or be exposed to criminal activity (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Studies have shown that schools with large populations of black students have fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Minority students are often segregated within schools and are targeted more as a result (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Many of these schools are so overpopulated that they have a more complex schedule that shortens school days and school years (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Exclusion from the classroom disrupts the student education and removes them from a structured environment, which can increase the likelihood for deviant behaviour (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The most unequal education system lies in the United States as it provides students with significantly different learning opportunities based on social status (Hammond-Darling 2005). For example, Goudy Elementary School in Chicago which served mainly African American students, used fifteen-year-old textbooks, did not have any science labs, art or music teachers, and had two working bathrooms for 700 students (Hammond-Darling 2005). In the neighbouring town of New Tier that is 98% white, they provided its high school students with superior labs, up to date technology, multiple gyms and an Olympic pool (Hammond-Darling 2005). Also in 2001, students in California’s most segregated minority school were five times more likely to have under qualified teachers than those in predominantly white schools (Hammond-Darling 2005). Attention to these systematic differences is vital to improve the overall education system. If people do not recognize that students have different realities based on their social status, policies will continue to be created on the notion that it is the students, not the school circumstances that are the root of the unequal education.

White supremacy is the belief that white people should control society due to the belief that they are superior to all races. It is critical to also note that this belief of superiority is upheld by different systems of oppression such as patriarchy, capitalism and heteronormativity1. As mentioned previously, racial privilege and related oppression are ingrained features of our history and therefore are ingrained features of our present. White people dominating our society includes them dominating our education system.

1. A worldview that promotes heterosexuality as normal or preferred sexual orientation. The way in which gender and sexuality are separated categories based on a hierarchy.   

As a result, it is predestined that whites should have a better education than all other races. This includes better teachers, teaching facilities and materials. Education lays the foundation for the direction of people’s lives; it is necessary for social, political and economic participation. Since the system is created in order for white people to have the best education, they are technically the only race “fit” to participate in society. That leaves the rest, namely the black population, uneducated and therefore unable to participate. With this criteria, only one system is deemed “appropriate” for black individuals to contribute to: the prison system.

The school to prison pipeline is a main contributor to the over-representation of black people in the prison system. There is a discrepancy between the degree of discipline and quality of education between white and black students. Programs are being put in place in order to abolish the structure of the education system. For example, the Cradle to Prisons Pipeline is a campaign to reduce detention and incarceration by increasing support and services that are a necessity for children (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). This includes access to quality early childhood development, education services and accessible health and mental health programs (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) also aims to dismantle the pipeline through education by expanding programs like Freedom Schools designed for black students (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Lives Matter movement also inspires communities to fight against the school to prison pipeline as an example of structural racism (Rethinking Schools 2015). When oppressive power structures that are structural and institutionalized are ignored, the over representation of black people in prisons is normalized (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). When the law ignores racism, black people continue to be abused, manipulated and exploited while the structural persistence of racism is ignored (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). In society it is important that we aim to establish equity as opposed to equality. Equality disregards power dynamics that are prevalent in society (ie. white supremacy, anti-black racism, etc.) and seeks to treat everybody the same. We must learn to recognize and navigate through these relationships. Ultimately the school to prison pipeline is rooted in anti-black racism. This must be fully addressed and eradicated to fix the system permanently.

References

Brewer, Rose M., and Nancy A. Heitzeg. 2008. “Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex.”American Behavioral Scientist 51(5): 625-644.
Children’s Defense Fund. 2015. “Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.childrensdefense.org/campaigns/cradle-to-prison pipeline/?referrer=https://www.google.ca/
Gender and Education Association. 2011. “What is heteronormativity”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.genderandeducation.com/issues/what-is-heteronormativity/
Hammond-Darling, Linda., Joy A. Williamson., and Maria E. Hyler. 2007. “Securing the Right to Learn: The Quest for an Empowering Curriculum for African American Citizens. The Journal of Negro Education 76(3): 281-296.
Hammond-Darling, Linda. 2004. “The Color Line in American Education: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement.”Du Bois Institute for African American Research 1(2): 213-246.
Irizarry, Jason M. 2010. “Redirecting the teacher’s gaze: Teacher education, youth surveillance and the school-to-prison pipeline.” Teaching and Teacher Education 26(5): 1196-1203.
Kim, Catherine., Daniel J. Losen., and Damon T. Hewitt. 2010. The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform, 34-50. New York: New York University Press.
O’Grady, William. 2011. “Classical Sociological Explanations of Crime”. In Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies, Second Edition, 88-115. Oxford University Press: Toronto.
Oxfrod Dictionaries. 2015. “Heteronormative”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/heteronormative
Rethinking Schools. 2015. “Black Students’ Lives Matter: Building the school-to-justice pipeline.” Last Modified November 2015. http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_03/edit293.shtml
Skiba, Russel J., Robert S. Michael, Abra C. Nardo., and Reece L. Peterson. 2002. “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment.” The Urban Review 34(4): 317-342.
Teaching Tolerance. 2015. “The School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Last modified March 2013. http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison

Black and white Headshot of Chinwe smiling

Chinwe Nwebube is a second year Nigerian-Canadian student majoring in Human Kinetics at the University of Guelph. She currently acts as the Communications and Promotions Officer on the CJ Munford Centre Collective, a center for racialized students on the University of Guelph campus. After witnessing the outburst of racism that took place after an on campus rally in the fall, she was motivated to further investigate institutionalized racism. This resulted in her writing this essay about anti-black racism within the education system and its contribution to the over representation of black people in the prison system.

#BlackOnCampusGuelph Report Back

black student protestors rallying and holding a banner that reads "we stand with students in Mizzou and Yale #blackoncampusguelph

by Galme Mumed

My name is Yasmin Mumed and I am one of the main organizers of the #BlackonCampusGuelph rally, which took place November 18th, at the University of Guelph. We started out with a rally where we had staff and students share their various stories of what it means to be black on campus Guelph which led into a march. The event was a part of a larger movement where Black Students took over social media and campuses internationally, to express our solidarity with black students resisting and fighting for the rights at Mizzou.

This created a space where black students could begin sharing our stories of being black on university and college campuses.

At the University of Guelph we saw stories from students who face anti-black racism in classrooms, residences, campus services, and within social spaces. This was so important for students who voices have been silenced front the moment they stepped on this campus. So many people shared stories of being entirely abandoned and ignored by the administration in dealing with anti-Black racism. We ended off the action by marching into the admin office to drop off a list of demands we are expecting to be met.

Post- rally we received an immense amount backlash from people on various forms of social media such as yikyak,liveleak, and Overheard at Guelph. Due to the several hundred immensely  racist comments from students at the university black students felt unsafe being on campus and in their classrooms and were left with no support.

The CJ. Munford Center, a club on campus that promotes racial diversity is the only space that supports Black students on campus. The Munford Center is seriously underfunded compared to other student groups on campus. The only paid staff at the centre was let go by the administration only a few years ago because of budget cuts. Black students are left to deal with the brunt of a legacy of anti-Blackness without any form of support from the administration.

The #BlackonCampusGuelph protest was an act of courage and a way for black students on campus to show the school administration that they were fed up with decades anti-black racism on campus. It is imperative for us not to view what is taking place in Mizzou in isolation. Students across Canada and right here in Guelph experience both subtle and overt manifestation of anti-black racism in every aspect of our education. We will no longer tolerate being silenced or erased. It is time the administration meet our demands and take accountability.


Galme Mumed

I was born in Hararge Oromia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old but my heart and my memories are still in Hararge Oromia. I believe I am here in Canada for a reason and have a purpose to serve both here and in my home. I am proud to call myself Oromo and Muslim and Black. I feel like my ancestors have left me with many teachings and gifts that I’m constantly trying to listen to. I am a revolutionary because that’s the legacy I was born into.

Black Lives Matter Toronto Tent City: Reportback

by Galme Mumed

On Sunday March 19th 2016, Black Lives Matter Toronto organized a rally at Nathan Phillip’s Square, in protest against anti-Black racism in Toronto and specifically in response to the special investigations Units decision not to charge the police officer involved in the shooting and killing of Andrew Loku last July, it was also a response to the reduction of Afrofest to one day. Hundreds of people from various communities showed up to demand justice and to protest the continued erasure of Black people in Toronto. We stood at Nathan Phillip’s Square with members of our community as we honored, mourned and celebrated the lives of those we have lost but whose spirits live on.

CI-BLM BLM rally at Toronto Police HQ on March 27, 2016.
Uploaded by: willoughby, serena

I stood in the crowd and listened to Black storytellers put words to feelings all of us have felt but have not been able to express. I watched our elders lead us in prayer and reconnect us with our ancestors. I watched as Black people danced fearlessly and freely, even if it was just in that space for that period of time, to Music that has come out of Black struggle; the true sounds of resistance. A few hours later the rally was coming to end and the crowd was getting smaller, my self and about six of my friends drove from Guelph because we received a message from the organizers saying they needed more bodies for the tent city.

It was getting dark and really cold, some of the organizers and community members who have decided to stay the night got under blankets and start to prepare for the long night ahead. We had a fire going and we all joined in singing our favourite old school tracks and the many freedom songs as a way to keep our spirits high and pass time. About an hour after we started getting comfortable the organizers told us that police in riot gear and were about to move in on us and we needed to make a decision weather to stay or move to another location. The decision was made to pack up our tents and our fire and move to Toronto police headquarters on College Street.

We packed up our tents and those of us who had the capacity to move to the next location made a decision to continue on. Something told me that I needed to go and be apart of this. At this time nothing could have prepared me for how transformative and healing this decision was going to be for me, I don’t think any of us knew what we were about the take part in or how long this was going to be, we just knew we needed to be here and not anywhere else. We arrived at the police headquarters super late at night. We built our tents and prepared to go to sleep for the night. That first night was brutal that I could feel the cold in my bones, there was not enough blankets at all. Three of my friends and I held each other super tight hoping that our body heat would keep us a bit warmer. That was not the case because the whole night I was afraid to lay down and  sleep because I actually thought I would freeze to death, but I made it and realized that this was not about me it was about something bigger.

The morning was beautiful we all cuddled under blankets around the fire and sang songs, shared stories, laughter, and a space where we all felt safe and loved, most of us had never met before this occupation but it felt like we knew each other. We had Black and Indigenous elders stop by to give us some words of encouragement. We had Indigenous elders in the space keep the fire going, smudging the space and praying with us, it was after we were in the space we realized we were right beside the Native youth center, which was clearly not accidental at all. It was not until I am writing this I’m realizing that that whole day was preparing us for the violence and trauma we would have to face later that night.

On Monday March 21st at about around 10pm we got word that the police were going to come and try to make us leave. We all linked arms and formed a huge circle around our tents and the fire that has been keeping us warm. We stood there fearlessly and waited, we waited as we watched about over twenty police officers walk and form a straight line overlooking us in front of the police building. The head of police made an announcement stating that we can stay but we can’t have the tents nor the fire, we made a decision to not move and that their fear tactics will not work on us. There were police, firefighters, and men all types of uniforms. The pigs were mostly white men, they were all tall and huge. On our side we were mostly Black woman, there were also children, elders, disabled people forming the circle around the fire and the tent. I remember standing there as firm as I could to protect our tents and within seconds I watched police officers charge at us, they pushed us, they kicked us, they punched us, and they sexually harassed us. They flung the barrel of fire down to the ground near children, they destroyed and grabbed the tents from our hands and they threatened to shoot! All I could hear is creaming crying and but we were also fearless. They put our fire out but they sparked another fire in us that they can never kill. A pig grabbed me and threw me down on layers of fire wood, I have always known that we were not human beings in their eyes but that moment made things real. I cried like I have never cried before not because I was in physical pain, but I cried for every black person in that space and globally whose lives are not valuable and whos lives don’t matter and who are disposable and whose skin colour has been a target of violence.

Amongst the trauma and anger there was something magical happening something bigger than all of us. Minutes after the pigs left every single one of us in that space hugged in a huge circle and started chanting “I Believe that we will win” and it was powerful. One image that I have held on to and have not been able to forget was of an Indigenous couple and their baby in a stroller stand between us and the police, to protect us and to let the pigs know whose land this is and that they will not touch us. I was in tears as I watched them wave the Six Nations flag to let us know that Black lives Matter on Indigenous land. That night we all sat together sang freedom songs like our various ancestors did and we knew we were protected. We were sitting in the stolen front year of our enemy and we had no fear, because we were connected to something more powerful than this system.

The next morning our communities from various parts of Toronto and across Canada showed up! Everyone came strapped ready to go to battle, ready to build, ready to heal. They came offering anything they had to offer weather they were healers, artist, writers, cooks, business owners, Black people from all walks of life came to let us know they see us and if they come out tonight they might as well get ready for war. The place that brought us so much trauma and violence became our home because that is what we are capable of taking something that represents so much trauma and turning it into a world that we can all safely exist without fear. The donations were coming in like floods. There were mountains of blankets, the food was endless, we had hot dinners almost every night. We were able to feed our homeless communities and provide shelter for them. We were able to take care of our own, I can’t even explain how that felt being able to provide the people in our communities who have been fucked over by the system the most these basic things.

We lived amongst each other for fifteen days. We woke up the warm kisses, hugs and prayers of our indigenous elders. I watched them smug the whole space with sage. People who usually never share space shared space with each other, we spoke about how our struggles are connected how important it is that we continue to work with each other, how critical it is that we learn from each other and build meaningful relationships with one another. Indigenous organizers and black organizers were able to share knowledge and be in the same space infront of police headquarters! Like what the fuck? How powerful is that? How dangerous is that for this system that has been built on the back of our communities. I wonder why they never tried that shit again for the next fifteen days we were there. That space was transformative it was us reimaging together. Prior to this experience I heard a lot about transformative justice and Tent City showed me and example of what that looks like even if it was a very simple and small example. I stayed at Tent City every single night except one or two nights because I needed to be home, it was my community, I was protected, I was loved, I was cared for, I felt and believed that everyone in the space knew my live mattered and it was valued and it was important. We affirmed one another. We spoke about revolution, we talked about liberation, and we asked each other what ways we can show up for each other. We shared skills and we began a process of healing and building trust with one another. In the fifteen days we watched the space transform into a different space that reflected each day. There was an art station where artists can come and visualize our experiences, there was a medic station with everything we needed, there was a healing space where Black and Indigenous elders setup message beds and performed spiritual healing, there was the food station where our elders fed us foods that they know to be good for us. I imagined this is probably the closest thing to show me what living in a decolonized world would look like. I learned that Indigenous folks are not fucking around and that we have a lot to learn from them. We had addicts who became clean due to our elders working with them, we deescalated intense situations without involving any outsiders, we all lived together without any issue for fifteen days. we held members of our communities who are the most vulnerable the closest and did not shun them away no matter how “problematic” they were, I understood that none of us disposable to each other that we all need each other, we might be disposable outside of Tent City, but not here amongst our people.

Until we are all free and we will be, I will hold on to the small taste of freedom that tent city was for me. I will stand behind indigenous people in their struggle to reclaim their land and I know they are ready to stand beside behind us and beside us in our fight for our liberation the Universe has brought us all together for a reason. Let’s do this shit!


Galme Mumed
I was born in Hararge Oromia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old but my heart and my memories are still in Hararge Oromia. I believe I am here in Canada for a reason and have a purpose to serve both here and in my home. I am proud to call myself Oromo and Muslim and Black. I feel like my ancestors have left me with many teachings and gifts that I’m constantly trying to listen to. I am a revolutionary because that’s the legacy I was born into.

Where are We Now?

by Asam Ahmad

It’s January 2nd, 2018. I’m speaking with Loretta Ross on reproductive justice and what that means in 2018. So Loretta, I guess I’ll start simply by asking you just that: Where are things at with reproductive justice in 2018, and where do we need to go from here?

LR: I think we are in a very good place, because we are more determined, we are more visionary, we are more focused. So that’s always good. Now what we’re up against is a neo- fascist president in Donald Trump. We are facing incredible rates of maternal and infant mortality in communities of colour. Some of us are still in mourning because people are dying at very young ages. Erica Garner just died, very young, 27 years old, with a young child. So we’re up against repression but at the same time we are fierce and focused and determined. We are also kind of surprised, because the reproductive justice movement has not only built a movement of women of colour in the United States, but that it has travelled globally so that people are using the human rights framework for laying claim to bodily autonomy, freedom to determine their sexuality, if and when they’ll have children, how they’ll have those children, and claiming the rights to raise those children in safe and healthy environments. And so I keep getting astonished by the power and the reach of the RJ framework.

Definitely. Here in Canada as well it has been taken up a lot, especially by Indigenous women, and there has been a lot of organizing happening around reproductive justice and land sovereignty. You brought up Erica Garner. Can you speak more to how you consider her death an issue of reproductive justice?

LR: Well, first of all the fact that her father was brutally murdered by New York City police and did not receive justice, meant that she dedicated her life to making sure that somebody atoned for her father’s murder. That had to have had an impact on her as she dealt with her pregnancy and her other health conditions. And then there is the real question of whether or not she was able to really take care of herself post-partum. Was she able to get the adequate post-partum care that she deserved? 27 years old is too young to die. I guess any age is too young but as a new mother it is especially painful. And so I don’t have any facts but I have my suspicions about whether she was able to take care of herself and receive the care that she deserved. But I don’t have any suspicions about… I know for a fact, that the stress of losing her father to policebrutality had to have had an impact on her life and her pregnancy.

You spoke recently with The Nation magazine, and you stated that “when we created reproductive justice in 1994, it was for this political moment.” And you just spoke a little bit about the neo-fascist onslaught we’re facing right now. Can you expand on that a little bit?

LR: Well, RJ was created because Black women felt that any analysis of reproductive politics that didn’t include an analysis of white supremacy was inadequate and impoverished. So, given that we’re at this moment where white supremacy is a lot more visible to a lot more people than it has been in recent history, I think that’s part of the attractiveness of the RJ framework, because it looks unflinchingly at white supremacy and. We look at neoliberalism, at misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, we can make the list. But every marginalized social location doesn’t have an adequate analysis of white supremacy, and that I think is one of the strengths of this framework because we look explicitly at whose bodies are privileged and whose bodies are disadvantaged and why.

Right. Thank you. One of the things we’ve spoken about in the past is the difficulty of building solidarity across difference. Here in Canada there is beginning to be more of a focus on violence against Black people and also the violence that Indigenous women face on this continent. Often times, however, people consider those to be two separate issues. I guess I’m wondering how you feel about building solidarity across that kind of difference where both issues are so urgent and so pertinent but people can’t always see the interconnectedness.

LR: Well to answer, I’d probably have to start by looking at identity politics. Identity politics was a framework created in 1977 by the Combahee River Collective that was supposed to be used to determine what identities each person possesses. And how those identities are threatened by structures of oppression. Unfortunately, identity politics has become misused so that people think it’s just a statement of their identity and that they don’t have to pay attention to the structures of oppression that not only affect their identities but other identities. That is not the role of identity politics. You’re supposed to find out who you are and – now that you know – figure out what you’re going to do about it in terms of ending the entire matrix of oppressions. And so, I think it’s taken a bad turn into people finding and seizing on their identities as if their identities are the only ones that matter. One of the things I’m working on in collaboration with

you and others, like Alicia Garza, and others is trying to create a calling-in culture so that we understand that we cannot build a united human rights movement if we are busily micro- dividing ourselves in the face of fascism. The fascists don’t care about our micro-divisions except for how they benefit their intent to oppress and in many ways wipe us out.

I think that it’s really important for us to really be self-critical of where we’ve let identity politics create movement silos. And why these silos will not serve us to create a united movement against fascism.

Do you feel that identity politics is still a useful framework for moving forward?

LR: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You need to know who you are otherwise you bring your confusion to the movement. So yes you need to know who you are and you’re own social locations and the oppressions that affect you. But that is just the beginning step, that is not the end of the process and the problem is people see the process as the destination. The destination is full human rights for everyone, but in the process you have to find out who you are and have an assessment of what you bring to a multi-vocal and multi-identity struggle.

 You also have a book that was recently published. Do you want to big that up?

LR: Haha yes. In November 2017 I published a book with Feminist Press called Radical Reproductive Justice and it’s about how we can use the RJ framework in radically new ways to critique white supremacy and neoliberalism. It is an anthology with more than 20 authors and co-editors, and we talk about RJ through a lot of lenses, through the lens of trans issues, through the lens of indigenous issues, as well as African-American, AAPI, Latinx, on and on, so we show the elasticity of the RJ framework. It is available from Feminist Press in November 2017.

Thank you so much for making the time to speak with me, Loretta.

LR: Thank you.


Asam Ahmad
Asam Ahmad is a poor, working-class writer, poet, and community organizer. His writing tackles issues of power, race, queerness, masculinity, and trauma. His writing and poetry have appeared in CounterPunch, Black Girl Dangerous, Briarpatch, Youngist, and Colorlines. His poem “Remembering How to Grieve” can be found in Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Loretta Ross
Loretta J. Ross is a co-founder and the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, a network founded in 1997 of women of colour and allied organizations that organize women of color in the reproductive justice movement. She is one of the creators of the term “Reproductive Justice” coined by African American women in 1994

Missing Links

The Injustices Surrounding Prenatal Care in Canada

by Ciana Hamilton

Reproductive Justice isn’t a term that many people understand. And maybe that’s the first part of the problem. In contrast, abortion rights seem to be interpreted more easily; does a woman in Canada have the right to terminate her pregnancy? Yes. Does this mean Canada gets an A on reproductive justice? Not really.

Canada is one of the countries where abortion is legal; a woman who decides to abort her pregnancy in Canada has no legal restrictions. However, accessibility to abortion clinics can vary from province to province. If a woman chooses to abort her pregnancy but is unable to access an abortion clinic where does that leave her? Reproductive justice is the framework that gives an individual choice over their reproductive health, but puts the responsibility on governments to provide accessible care to accommodate those choices.

In 1994 a group of black women from Chicago recognized that there were other important reproductive issues, besides abortion, that were affecting women in their community. This group of women created the term Reproductive Justice. They called themselves the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice and their goal was to give black women a voice and a platform outside of the mainly white, middle class, women’s rights movement. Almost twenty-five years later the term is known worldwide and represents Indigenous Women, Women of Colour and Trans People.

Today many people of marginalized communities face reproductive injustice and oppression. Access to safe, compassionate prenatal care where both medical and cultural needs are met, doesn’t always happen. Women and families are not being given access to resources and information in order to make informed choices; community services are not accessible and their voices are not being heard. In Canada, Aboriginal women face the most significant inequality around maternal care, especially those in remote communities. Women of colour, women living at or below the poverty line, teen mothers, LGBTQ families and HIV positive women also face the reality of reproductive inequality when seeking care. There appears to be two crucial factors when discussing reproductive justice: inaccessible midwives and a lack of representation in the healthcare system.

Midwives

For many women, the first time their reproductive health is spotlighted is when they become pregnant. This was true for me, being pregnant for the first time at 23. I did not even know that I had reproductive rights. As a young, black, woman from a low-income home, I felt the system was stacked against me from the beginning. I did not have a family doctor and was nearing my second trimester without receiving any regular prenatal check-ups. I remember initially wanting a midwife but was unable to access one in the city I was in. I remember going to a walk-in clinic and practically begging the doctor to refer me to anyone who could provide prenatal care for my baby and me. She did not. Eventually, with some family help, I got in with a team of obstetricians. I was initially relieved, but quickly realized the type of care I would receive was nothing like I imagined. I got basic treatment; none of the doctors cared to know my name. None of the doctors asked if I had a birth plan. I was not given options or choices. I was handed requisitions for tests and sent on my way. I didn’t know who would deliver my baby until the day of delivery. Reflecting on my experience with my first child, what sticks out for me was my desire to have a midwife and being unable to access one. I didn’t know much about midwifery but I felt like a midwife would be the obvious choice for compassionate, trustworthy and respectful care.

Midwifery has gained traction over the years, going from a misunderstood hippie alternative to the more natural, inclusive option. In fact, more parents are continuing to seek out care from midwives. According to the Better Outcome Registry Network or BORN, in Ontario between 2014-2015, midwives cared for 15% of all births in the province. It also helps that midwifery services are covered by OHIP. And, although there has been an increase in the amount of midwives providing care, there still seems to be a lack of midwifery services in the communities that need it the most. If given the choice, I strongly believe most women, specifically marginalized women, would choose to be cared for by a midwife. However, if midwifery services are inaccessible in their community, then there is no choice.

In early December I sat down with Martha Aitkin, a registered midwife in Guelph who has been practicing for 21 years. She believes there are some key differences between care from a doctor and care from a midwife. “The way we organize and the way we give care gives us a lot more time. Time with women and their families to get to know who they are and what is important to them. Time to answer their questions and share information to allow them to make their own decisions about their care.” Aitkin adds, “if a person has a midwife then they have a known care provider, someone they have had a chance to develop a relationship with – someone that they trust. That enhances the safety of their care.”

Pictured above from top to bottom: Martha Aitkin and Nicole Barrette

The midwifery model of care is beautifully simple. Give women choice. Give women a safe space to ask questions, review options and be vulnerable. Give people who identify as LGBTQ+ an inclusive space that is accepting and easily adaptable to non-binary lifestyles. Provide access to materials that can educate and inform families about choices around parenting.

Midwives also provide in home, postpartum care up to six weeks following the birth. For women in the far north, such as Nunavut, extended postpartum care within their own community could be extremely supportive. These women could potentially receive extra support around breastfeeding, diagnosis and treatment of postpartum depression, as well as incorporating traditional medicines for physical healing. Martha spoke about her experience providing care for Inuit women in Nunavut, one of the places that still suffers the most reproductive injustice in Canada. “Most women in Nunavut have to go far away, separate from their families to other cities – Edmonton, Winnipeg, Yellowknife to have their babies. They could be gone for a month to six weeks separated from their other children and the rest of their community. That’s an injustice as far as I’m concerned and the solution as far as I can see is the growth of midwifery services provided by Inuit people for Inuit people.” Martha is right; one possible solution for many Indigenous women living in remote communities across Canada is the growth of midwives in their communities. Imagine the possibilities, women would have access to a midwife close to their home, receive regular prenatal care and be able to deliver their babies in an environment where they feel safe.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I knew I wanted my experience to be different. I wanted to exercise my reproductive rights to the fullest. I wanted to be cared for by a midwife. I wanted an un-medicated homebirth. I wanted to breastfeed. Luckily, I was able to access and get what I had hoped for. I was cared for by two midwives in Guelph, I had a completely non-medicated home birth and I have proudly breastfed my daughter for more than a year. My second experience completely changed my views on reproductive care and reproductive choice. My voice was heard and my choices were respected. Instead of being told to take certain tests, I was asked. I felt empowered and valued as a parent. A part of this empowerment came from the quality of care I received by other women. My midwives were women who respected the autonomy of pregnancy and parenthood. We worked as a team to strategize the safest maternal care and delivery for me. They ensured that I always felt comfortable with any procedure or test that needed to take place. Ultimately, the connection between my midwives and I grew much deeper than I could have anticipated. And as a result, I felt safe.

Representation

If we are looking at ending reproductive injustice than we need to look at equal representation amongst care providers. Midwives provide a piece of that representation; they represent the power and beauty that is a woman birthing a child. They represent the diversity in methods of care. They represent open spaces for different family dynamics. However, midwives are in high demand and in short supply. Not having equal representation in the healthcare system for a marginalized person creates an automatic distrust and assumption that those providing care – the doctors, the nurses – don’t understand the issues that a vulnerable person might face. Representation doesn’t begin and end with healthcare professionals; doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants and patient advocates also need to be included to represent the diversity of the people receiving care.

Two years ago I began volunteering for Women Everywhere Breastfeed (WEB), a volunteer run program out of the Guelph Community Health Centre. The cafe offered by WEB is held weekly and is aimed at anyone in the community who may be facing challenges around breastfeeding and who is looking for accessible support from their peers. The program is coordinated by Nicole Barrette, an advocate for reproductive justice, who is deeply invested in ensuring that her work remains inclusive of all people who are needing support during their parenting journey. Nicole is also a birth and postpartum doula and has been for 11 years. She has first-hand experience with the layers of stigma that marginalized women and families face from health care providers when receiving reproductive care. One group we talked about were parents who identify as LGBTQ+, specifically Trans people. “There’s a lack of gender diversity acknowledgment – not everybody who has a baby is identifying as a woman. We talk about breastfeeding/chestfeeding at the WE Breastfeed program.

Chestfeeding, the term Nicole mentioned, is an example of how interchangeable language can be used to make a program more representative of all parents who may choose to attend. Chestfeeding is a term that could be used by a Trans masculine or gender-non-conforming parent. It simply takes out the word breast for a parent who is using the milk from their body   to feed their child, but because they do not identify as a woman, the term breast [may?] conflict with their gender identity. Most hospitals and doctors’ offices have information promoting breastfeeding, and the term breastfeeding is almost always used. WEB is one of the only places I’ve seen that includes terminology that would be representative of Trans parents.

If we are looking for ways to end reproductive injustice, then we must allow communities to represent themselves in the healthcare system. Reproductive justice starts at the grassroots level- people with diverse backgrounds and experiences need to be at hospitals, clinics or community centres offering advocacy services and providing basic resources to educate people.

Collective efforts need to be put forth to educate, empower and equip those who are victimized by Canada’s accessible, but oppressive health care system. The Women of African Descent created the term and set the stage for an open and honest discussion around reproductive injustices faced by marginalized women. It is up to us to demand a change from a system that needs to be held accountable.


Ciana Hamilton
Ciana Hamilton is a freelance writer based out of Guelph,Ontario. She respectfully honours Turtle Island as sacred Indigenous lands. Her work leans towards creative non-fiction and she enjoys writing about issues surrounding advocacy, justice, feminism and cultural ancestry.

A History of Anti-Racist Organizing at the University of Guelph

by Mina Ramos

In the summer of 2017, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) – Guelph  launched the People’s History Project with the goal of creating a digital archive that holds the history of social movement building in Guelph, Ontario (Dish With One Spoon / Mississauga of the New Credit traditional territories). To start off the project, I decided to begin to document racial justice organizing carried out by and for racialized students at the University of Guelph, a predominantly white institution in a predominantly white community.

It comes as no surprise that the rich history of anti-racist student organizing is largely unacknowledged. 

Above: Protest in the UC for the National Day of Divestment in South Africa on March 21st, 1979

As an institution that ranks fourth on Maclean’s magazine’s list of top universities and boasts “Changing Lives, Improving Lives” as its slogan, it certainly doesn’t benefit the University for racialized students to know the history of ongoing racial discrimination and administration’s broken promises, or the successes of student organizing and the erosion of some of those gains over time. 

What follows is a timeline of racial justice organizing at the University of Guelph in recent decades. Though currently incomplete, it is my hope that this ongoing project can offer racialized students a resource that can inform future organizing.

It’s important to note that though I use the term “racialized students,” the majority of the organizing documented here has been led by or involved Black students. Additionally, I have yet to research or conduct interviews with regards to Indigenous students’ organizing, so that critically important history is missing from this timeline.

Timeline

1977 – Michael Clarke, a white university student, returns from 3 years in Sierra Leone where he worked as a teacher through an NGO called CUSO. He is moved by his development work in Africa and is appalled by the South African Apartheid Regime and Canada’s involvement in this regime. Although South African Apartheid has been in legislation since 1948, organizing against South African Apartheid in Canada only begins to gain traction in the mid-1960’s.

Michael wants to demonstrate to Canadians how Canada is implicit in this regime. He also wants to organize to disrupt the Canadian and South African economy, who are both benefiting from South African Apartheid. He researches the concept of divestment and contacts the African National Congress (ANC).

Alongside his life partner Suzanne and a colleague at the university, they align themselves with the ideologies of the African National Congress and begin to organize an event in Peter Clark Hall, with speaker John Saul from York University, to talk about South African Apartheid. They make a sign at the event which reads “Guelph Campaign for Divestment in South Africa”, and have a sign-up sheet for people interested in getting involved.

November 11th thru 15th 1978 – The African Student Association (ASA) hosts a week long conference called “Africa Week” which highlights the resistance to South-African Apartheid amongst a series of other topics involving African empowerment, economics, autonomy and self-representation. The “Guelph Campaign for Divestment in South Africa” is officially formed after the conversations that come out of the conference. The newly founded organization is made up of white students, who work very closely with the African Student Association. This is largely attributed to the fact that all of the ASA students are international students who do not want to put their status at jeopardy, as well as the fact that the majority of these students are in mathematics or science and cannot contribute the same amount of time to the campaign. The campaign joins OPIRG Guelph as a working group and sets out the following goals:

  • Put on a series of events which raise awareness on the regime of apartheid
  • Educate Canadians on how they and the government of Canada are implicit in apartheid
  • Finding ways to assist in the process of change ie. raising funds, divestment…etc
  • Getting individuals to join the movement

A National Day of Action for divestment is set for March 21st which the campaign plans to take part in. Members of the campaign plan to call on students and organizations to withdraw from the 5 banks involved in lending money to the South African government ie. CIBC, TD Canada Trust, RBC, Scotiabank and BMO. The date of March 21st is chosen because it is symbolic to when the Sharpeville Massacre occurred in 1960 in South Africa.

From January leading up to the Day of Action, the campaign calls bank managers and trust company managers to get their positions regarding investment in South Africa, they create informational posters and pamphlets, begin circulating a petition for disinvestment of the university, hold information tables, show movie screenings, and host fundraisers.

During this time, Michael Clarke joins the Senate as a representative of the Graduate Students Association with the sole purpose and strategy to bring up a motion for the university to endorse divestment as a means to urge the Board of Governors of the university to divest.

March 20th 1979 – The University of Guelph  student senate passes a motion that endorses divestment and recommends to the Board of Governors that the university should divest. The amount of money held by the university in banks is around $85-$90 Million at this time.

March 21st 1979 – The National Day of Action for Divestment takes place. There is a march organized in the University Centre (UC) and student activist Ben Loevenstein chains himself to the front door of the CIBC located in the UC. Over 250 students withdraw funds, and organizations including the African Student Association, the Photo Arts Club, the Biological Science Student Council, CUSO, OPIRG, the politics club, and the West Indian Student Association all withdraw. In total $180,000 is divested on that day. The National day of Action is seen as a wide success.

April 26th and 27th, 1979 – The Board of Governors is set to vote on whether or not to divest the University of Guelph’s funds. The Board of Governors votes to not divest despite the huge amount of pressure from the campaign. Organizers are crushed. Many stop organizing, get back to school and/or graduate and the movement dies down.

Early 1980s – A new wave of students are on campus and after taking classes led by Professor Clarence J Munford on Black History, Precolonial Africa, African politics…etc,. They want to get involved in organizing in some way (1.)

 Among them is a student named Gayle Valeriote who approaches OPIRG and begins organizing against South African Apartheid as an OPIRG working group under a new name: the South African Interest Group (SAIJ). The new group is again a predominantly white group who continues to work very closely with the African Students Association. At this time the tactic of organizing changes. The group, who is taking action under the direction of the African National Congress (ANC) moves away from divestment and towards boycotting South African products instead; primarily wine. They host boycotts and pickets, and organize anti-apartheid awareness events and fundraisers.


1. Although this is the first time Clarence J Munford is mentioned, it is important to note that Munford is a bit of a legend at the university. At this time and until he leaves the University of Guelph, Clarence J Munford is widely regarded as the go-to for black students on campus to express concerns and to voice frustration about racism on campus. He is the only one at this time teaching classes relating to Black History and radical African politics.

Among them is a student named Gayle Valeriote who approaches OPIRG and begins organizing against South African Apartheid as an OPIRG working group under a new name: the South African Interest Group (SAIJ). The new group is again a predominantly white group who continues to work very closely with the African Students Association. At this time the tactic of organizing changes. The group, who is taking action under the direction of the African National Congress (ANC) moves away from divestment and towards boycotting South African products instead; primarily wine. They host boycotts and pickets, and organize anti-apartheid awareness events and fundraisers.

1981 – The Latin American Solidarity Group is formed as a working group of OPIRG by two chilean political refugees, Augustine Lobos and Goly Medina, who are living in Guelph. At the time, there are civil wars and dictatorships all across Latin America. They want to raise awareness about the human rights violations and repression occurring in Chile and in the rest of Latin America. They also want to fundraise and send donations to communities that need them. They operate for 13 years and in that time organize music shows, coffee houses, speaking panels, attend protests and also work in solidarity with other groups and raise many issues affecting other countries and communities through their group. They also work very closely with the African Students Association and the South African Interest Group.

1982 – Students from the of the South African Interest Group approach the administration asking to confer an honourary degree to Nelson Mandela for his work with the African National Congress in fighting against South African Apartheid. Although this is largely a symbolic gesture, they want the university to take a formal stance against South African Apartheid through this action. The university administration denies the request saying that they cannot confer an honourary degree to someone who is in prison.

June 4th 1986 – After a lack of support fro the university to confer an honourary degree to Nelson Mandela, SAIG takes matters into their own hands and organizes an alternative convocation which will take place the same day as the regular convocation on the other side of Johnston Green. They decide that they will create their own honourary degrees and give them to Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Nyembe and Ahmed Kathrada. Over 100 students attend the alternative convocation and members of the ANC accept the degrees on behalf of these individuals.

1990 – The Race Relations Association (formerly the multicultural club) is created by a faculty member named Leon Hall. The group is open to all racialized students, faculty members and administration who want to discuss and raise issues related to racism on campus, visibility, representation, policy and space. They try to bring attention to issues happening outside of campus as well and connect them to the racism occurring on campus and in Guelph generally. The Oka crisis and killing of Dudley George spurs conversation around colonization and racism against Indigenous people in Canada. They also begin acknowledging police brutality towards Black Canadians and anti-black racism occurring in different parts of Southwestern Ontario.

Members of the group also attend actions outside of Guelph. One former member recounts how members of the association attended the Yonge Street Riots in 1992 in Toronto, as well as the protests that came afterwards.

During this time Clarence J Munford is also working with the Race Relations Association, and independently to bring speakers to give lectures on campus. One of the biggest speakers Clarence J Munford brings is Stokely Carmichael, a Trinidadian born civil rights activist from the US.

It is important to note that during this time there is an exceptional amount of Trinidadian students studying at the University of Guelph, and as a result, this time is seen as the height of the West Indian Students Association. However, one past student that I interviewed highlighted the distinction that it was often students born in Canada who were engaging in critical discussions on race and racism in Canada, while international studen were more focused on hosting cultural events and parties and did not necessarily engage in this dialogue as much.

During this time the Black Women’s Society is also created and serves as an open space for black students to specifically talk about issues affecting black women in Canada.

March 6th 1990 – Students protest the speaking event of widely known white supremacist Paul Fromm, whose right wing organization C-FAR (Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform) booked the space called The Albion under false pretenses. They find out about the event after a student places an unclassified ad in the Ontarion the week before. The Albion denounces the event, but under the guidance of student activists, the Albion gives away all of the tickets so that student organizers can take up all of the seats during the event. As Fromm is speaking the students unanimously turn the chairs around and turn their backs on him. Things get heated but there is no physical violence. Students from OPIRG, the Race Relations Association and the Guelph International Resource Centre all attend and the protest is seen as a widespread success to curbing racism in the city. As a result, the Albion issues an official statement stating that they are against all forms of racial discrimination.

An Anti- Apartheid picket in Guelph in the 1980s

Above: An Anti- Apartheid picket in Guelph in the 1980s

June 1990 – Members of SAIJ travel to Toronto to meet with Nelson Mandela during his cross Canada speaking tour, after his release in February. During this month, community members and students at the University of Guelph also travel to Ottawa to protest South African Apartheid by calling for the closing of the South African embassy in solidarity with Black South Africans fighting for their right to vote.

1992 – A subcommittee of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Educational Equity begins discussing a race relations policy for the university. At this point, there is a Human Rights Advisor named Indira Ganase Lall working at the university, but no human rights policy exists at the university.

During this time, a Canadian Graduate Educational Equity Survey demonstrates that in Canadian universities 30% of students of colour are discriminated against based on their skin colour, 51% based on their race, and 46% based on their ethnicity.

Out of this growing awareness of racism on campuses across Canada, the Presidential Task Force on Human Rights is created in Guelph. Clarence J Munford is accredited to being one of the strongest backers of this policy and sits on the Task Force. There are also members of the Race Relations Association on the Task Force as well and old members of the South African Interest Group.

In 1993, the Task Force is renamed to the Presidential Task Force on Anti-Racism and Race Relations. They meet once a week from January to May, and realize that is crucial to not only create a policy but release a report on the realities of racism on campus and to highlight the experiences of students of colour on campus. Many students are pushing for this taskforce and one former member jokes that they would have people knocking on the door wondering when it would be released. She adds that the process took such a long time because they wanted to make sure they had covered all of their tracks and created a useful document for the university to actually implement changes.

When the report is finished, it is dense and breaks down understandings of race, racism, and how it plays out in universities. It outlines that these issues are the result of systemic racism, white privilege, and eurocentrism at all levels of the university. It also gives a historical timeline that demonstrates the different racist laws that have shaped Canadian policies, economy, culture, society…etc. It is the first document ever created at the university that demonstrates how racism plays out in universities, and shares specifical in-depth examples of the racism students have experienced on the University of Guelph campus.

Many recommendations are made and go into great detail as to how these recommendations can be implemented. Some main recommendations are:

  • The formation of an overall human rights office
  • That at least one counsellor of colour is hired and one Indigenous counsellor is hired
  • That enrollment must reflect the racial diversity of the country and that the recruitment system is monitored to eliminate systemic barriers to accessing university
  • That the admissions Committee members be required to attend seminars on racism, systemic racism and inclusivity
  • That space and funding be allocated to the Race Relations Commission for the creation of a Student Resource Centre for racialized and Indigenous students and that funding should allow for a permanent paid employee to coordinate the Centre
  • That a core course be developed on human rights issues as soon as possible to become a permanent course offering
  • To assess the curriculum in different departments in regards to racism, as well as having the curriculum reviewed with input from students of colour and Indigenous students so that there is a wider range of racial and cultural issues covered in class.
  • That all course descriptions should be reviewed for accuracy. If the course doesn’t match its description it should be renamed ie. Topics in the History of Women should be renamed Topics in the History of Western white Women if it is only about white women to be consistent.
  • Creating a monitoring system to track employment equity and that the practices are actually being followed, evaluate the ability of candidates for faculty positions to teach courses on the basis on anti-racism and in a cross-cultural context
  • To ensure that representation of people of colour and Indigenous people does not fall below current levels; vacancies should be filled by a qualified person of colour or Indigenous person
  • That one full-time-equivalent Advisor be appointed to assist the current Human Rights Advisor in dealing with complaints of a racial nature
  • A guideline for a systemic review of all of the University’s services and programs and a ten year implementation plan
  • That the following groups attend an anti-racist training annually: President, Vice-President, Deans, Academic Advisors, Board of Governors, Academic Councils, Management Advisory Groups, Program Counsellors and Departmental Faculty Advisors, Graduate Coordinators, Student Housing Administration and University College Project

In order to have accountability with the report, the Task Force asserts that a follow up report be made in 1995 to assess the completion of the suggestions. 

They want this report to be made accessible to all students, faculty and administration (2.)


2. At this point in my own research I am unsure if this follow up report was made

July 1993 – The Anti-Racism and Race Relations Task Force report is published. It is printed in the Ontarion and individually, and is distributed all over campus. Many former students comment that this Task Force causes an uproar in dialogue and a denial of racism on campus from the campus administration, including the university president of the time, William Winegard.

1994 – As a result of the recommendations of the taskforce, the race relations association is given a space and is transformed into the CJ Munford Center (named after Clarence J Munford). However there is no paid employee for the space and instead a collective is formed for the center.

October 18th 1995 -University of Guelph Human Rights Advisor Indira Ganese Lall and Human Rights Assistant Sharon Harris, quit after only being offered month-to month-contracts instead of permanent position. Lall, who amassed most of the personal stories of racism on campus for the Taskforce, finds the offer offensive in light of her contributions. Both staff also leave as a result of their frustration with how human rights policies are being carried out/not being carried out on campus.

1996 – The Human Rights and Equity Office opens. Although students and faculty have been pushing for an office like this, they are outraged that an individual by the name of Ralph Agard has been hired following the departure of Indira Ganase Lall and Sharon Harris. Ralph Agard is widely known in Toronto as a perpetrator of sexual assault and students feel that it is an insult to what they have worked for to have him placed as the director of the office. A huge expose is written about Agard in the Ontarion and the ribbon cutting is protested by several racialized students. A sit-in at the Human Rights and Equity Office is planned but Ralph Agard is quietly dismissed before this ever happens. Ralph Agard is replaced by the current Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education, Patrick Case.

February 1997 – The President’s office is occupied for a week by students seeking justice for cutbacks to education. This action is part of a wave of student activism against cutbacks, and similar occupations occur at the University of Toronto and York University. At this time groups of colour get involved in the occupation and join up with other organizations that are predominantly white. Both groups address racism on campus and connect this to the cutbacks and how they affect people of colour.

Mid 2000’s to late 2000’s – Rose Mcleod is hired by counselling services to give counselling support for black students. She works out of the CJ Munford centre and provides informal counselling support. Her hiring is also a result of the Taskforce on anti-racism. One former student describes that Rose Mcleod was instrumental to the functioning of the CJ Munford Centre and its growth at that time. Not only did she provide counselling support, she helped to direct students to appropriate offices depending on what services they were seeking, set up weekly discussions at the Centre and helped to facilitate collective meetings.

Despite being the heart of the Centre, the university does not take appropriate steps to secure funding for her position and organizations like GRCGED, the CJ Munford Centre and counselling services are left to seek out grants to pay for her position. Eventually the university administration decides that her position is not justified because of the informality of her work. Students at the CJ Munford centre organize to keep her position and go through all of the official channels including setting up a meeting with student affairs and more specifically the Associate Vice President Brenda Whiteside to convince the administration to find funding for her position to continue. There is also talk about reviving the Taskforce and creating an up to date report; however this is not followed through with. Despite their countless meetings and efforts, Rose’s contract is not renewed and in 2013 she leaves the university and the CJ Munford Center is again functioning without a paid staff.

Black On Campus march across campus on 2015
Black On Campus banner drop in the UC, 2015

Above: Black On Campus march across campus and banner drop in the UC, 2015 

Nov.18th 2015 – Along with 3 other universities, Black students at the University of Guelph hold an action in solidarity with Black students protesting at the University of Missouri and Yale University in the United States. With less than 24 hours’ notice, student organizers Galme Mumed, Savannah Clarke and George Umeh bring together over 100 students to stage a campus wide march. This is the first time in the history of the university that a march organized and attended by mainly Black students addressing anti-black racism has ever taken place. The majority of the Black students in attendance are from the CJ Munford Centre. Black students are encouraged to write out their experiences of racism on placards and share their ,m before the march. The march takes place through the entire campus and ends in the Office of Student Affairs where protestors confront Brenda Whiteside for her complacency in dealing with systemic anti-black racism at the university. Although the action is initially seen as a solidarity event, organizers realize that the demands put forth by students in Missouri are similar to what is needed at the University of Guelph.

Overnight this action becomes the talk of the entire university. Extreme racist backlash is received online through facebook pages like “Overheard Guelph”. The students who organized the initial action secure funds from on-campus organizations and hire an informal counsellor to help with the stress that Black students are dealing with post-action. In the midst of this, organizers also roll out their own set of demands which they present to the University president Franco Vaccarino, Brenda Whiteside and the assistant vice-president Jane Ngobia. The demands are as follows:

  1. Discuss and change the underrepresentation of Black administrators, faculty and teaching staff with the goal of increasing the percentage of black faculty and staff members.
  2. Address the underrepresentation of Black students in all programs.
  3. Establish mandatory equity training for all faculties, students, governors, and all other administrative bodies. This entails mandatory anti-oppression training for all persons employed by the University, and an equity breadth requirement for all students.
  4. Increase the number of scholarships and funding resources available to black and Indigenous students.
  5. Establish counseling and mental health services on the U of G campus that are culturally appropriate and representative for addressing the mental, emotional, and psychological needs of black students. At the U of G, there is only one Black counselor available that understands the mental health needs of Black students.
  6. That the administration take leadership under the CJ Munford Centre in order to properly support them in implementing the anti-racism taskforce. In addition funding a full time position under the taskforce that is created and overseen by the CJ Munford Centre students.
  7. Develop a plan to establish, adequately fund and support a standalone Black, African & Caribbean Studies Department.
  8. Implement free education for Black and Indigenous students.

The demands set out in 2015 are strikingly similar to those of the anti-racism taskforce which the University administration itself asked for yet did very little to implement any of the recommendations.

Instead of addressing these demands head on or revisiting the taskforce (which goes into great details as to how the administration can implement changes), the university administration decides to have their own discussions with Black students and holds 40 interviews with Black identified students. Through this, they create their own report which highlights what students organizers have already said and come up with broad strategic plans with lots of fluff to make the university more inclusive. There are very little tangible goals. Most of the demands initially set out by Black students are not acknowledged at all, including those centered on more scholarships, mandatory anti-oppression training, free education and actually paying someone to implement the anti-racism taskforce of the 1990’s. Instead, they create a full-time position in support of cultural diversity which will be held within the Office of Intercultural Affairs in Student Life. It is interesting to note that there was never funding made available for Rose Mcleod during her stay at the university but funding is immediately made available for another administrative staff outside of the CJ Munford Centre.

During this time the CJ Munford Centre change their name to the Guelph Black Students Association to be more visible on campus.

This is presently where the timeline ends. However there is so much work to be done to not only fill in the blanks on the resilience and organizing of racialized students as well as the intricacies of how the administration has managed to escape responsibilities.

Currently, the funding has run dry for this project; however the aim is for it to be an accessible multi-media digital archive that will serve as a tool and guide for future generations of racialized students looking to organize at the University of Guelph.


Mina Ramos
Mina is a mixed race queer who is based out of Brampton ON. She is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues grounded in resistance movements of all kinds and the intricate connection to spirituality but specifically organizes in the realm of migrant justice.

Justice in our Schools

Building Safety for Black Youth Living with ADD and ADHD

by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

 I recently caught up with Leroi Newbold, a bad ass teacher working in the Toronto District School Board doing amazing work with youth. This interview I did with him focuses on how Black youth living with ADD and ADHA are being impacted by ableism is schools and transformative solutions.

Shabina: Can you introduce yourself and the work you do? 

I’m LeRoi Newbold. I’m a community organizer with Black Lives Matter – Toronto, a parent, and an educator at the Africentric Alternative School at Keele and Sheppard in Toronto. On a daily, I teach Grade 1. I’ve taught Special Education and have taught in a “behavioral” classroom in the system. I work with Black kids who are struggling with being educated in a system that is oppressive, and I try to share some tools with them about how to resist in that system, or how to be successful through understanding how that system operates.

I am the co-founder of St. Emilie Skillshare in Montreal, which began as a skill-sharing organization to provide free studio time and photography/silkscreen lessons to people living in of South-West Montreal, and queer/trans *BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour). I am the founder and director of BlackLivesMatter – Toronto Freedom School, which is an arts based program to teach Black Liberation, political history and political resistance to young Black children (4-10 years-old). We especially focus on Black Liberation work done by and to support Black *cis women, queer, and transgender people, poor Black people, Black people in prison, and Black people living at the margins of our communities. We teach kids how to organize, how to use arts to communicate, and how to fight back against police violence and oppression.

I am on the steering committee of BlackLivesMatter – Toronto. So….we support people who want to speak out about police murders of their family members, and police violence. We also try to create space for Black artists making work in Toronto, hold systems accountable for state violence, encourage people to rely on each other for safety instead of police, and support alternatives to traditional schooling for Black kids etc.

 Shabina: What is an IEP and how are Black youth impacted by them?

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan. On paper an IEP is a seven page document that is written to outline how a child is going to get support over the course of a year in the Special Education system here in Ontario. The IEP outlines accommodation, which are things that a child might need to be successful in school like extra time on exams, different exam formats, condensed work etc. In some cases it outlines modifications, which is when a child’s whole curriculum is altered so for example, a child might be enrolled in Grade 4, but according to their IEP, they are working on elements of a Grade 2 curriculum as a point of departure.

On paper an IEP is a collaborative (so written together) by parents, classroom teachers, Special Education teachers, and principles. IEPs are in theory positive because they are personalized and student based. They outline a student’s strengths and needs, and the idea is to use a student’s strengths to address their needs. So for example, an IEP might stipulate that a child is very strong in music and that those strengths should be used to address their need to develop stronger reading skills or skills in mathematics. IEPs are also technically documents that hold teachers accountable to a plan for how to address a student’s needs, who may need support academically or even socially/emotionally.

The problem with IEPs is sometimes they are in fact not collaborative documents. Sometimes they are documents that teachers write and ask parents to sign without even properly explaining what they are. Sometimes they are documents that confuse parents because a child’s report card is reporting on their progress on their IEP instead of progress in the classroom. For example, a parent is seeing A’s on a child’s report card, but not understanding that their child is working below their Grade level. Sometimes IEP’s, are documents that criminalize kids and put families in danger because the IEP states that 911 should be called when a child does a certain behaviour, even though the child is 5 or 6 years- old. Sometimes IEPs are a problem because they lead to an actual lack of accountability. For example, a child may never fail a grade in school, but might remain on an IEP that says they are working at a Kindergraten level while they are enrolled in Grade 2, and then again while they are enrolled in Grade 3, and then again while they are enrolled in Grade 4. There is a lack of processes of accountability for teachers to ensure that the plan written in the IEP is met and that the child learns the things the IEP says they’re going to learn.

Shabina: Can you talk about some of the barriers set up for Black youth living with ADD, ADHA and other ‘behavioural disorders’ in the public school system?

One barrier is that ADD and ADHA are often treated as behavioural disorders. ADD/ADHA are not behavioural disorders. ADD and ADHD affect the executive functions of the brain. So in an educational setting, a child might need support directing their attention to a particular task or instruction. What a child does not need is escalating punitive measures related to the struggle they have with focus or attention, and therefore their tendency to get up and wander around or “distract” other kids. Punishing a child for the executive functions of their brain is very violent and very ableist.

This can be exacerbated by the fact that Black children are often read as defiant in a way that is not appropriate. In “Educating Other People’s Children” Lisa Delpit writes about the way white teachers tend to give verbal directives. She writes about how white teachers tend to give verbal directives in a way that is very passive aggressive (Ex: would you like to read a book? Ex: Is that where we put the scissors?). For Black children whose parents speak to them in very direct ways in their up-bringing, passive aggressive ways of speaking and interacting can be very confusing. Black children will often take what is being said at face value, and respond by saying, “No, I don’t want to read a book.” And then the child will be read and labeled as defiant even though they are just being honest. Passive aggressive verbal directives can be an even bigger problem for children who have communication based learning disabilities or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) because passive aggressive communication can be hard or impossible to understand.

Another issue for many Black communities and families is that education has been used as an instrument of colonization. So because of this, parents and families don’t trust the education system here even though education is a priority for Black families. There is also a breadth of research to suggest that Black communities have diminished trust in the health care system because of racism, mistreatment by physicians and having received substandard health care. Because of this, diagnoses for Black children with disabilities like ASD or ADHD might happen later in life or not at all. It is very hard for parents to effectively collaborate with teachers around things like IEPs when there is little or no trust there.

Shabina: How do you see the school-to-prison pipeline affecting Black youth with disabilities?

There has been a shift for people from talking about the school-to-prison pipeline to actually talking about schools as carceral (jail like) spaces. The case of a 6 year-old Black girl who was recently handcuffed at school by police in Mississauga clearly demonstrates how schools can act as carceral spaces for Black kids (especially Black kids with disabilities). A 6 year-old was handcuffed by police at her school because she was having an outburst, and potentially punched her principal. The child was 6 years-old, so weighed less than 50 pounds. For an adult principal (who is an authority figure within a school), being punched by someone who weighs less than 50 pounds and is 6 years-old might be surprising, but it does not present a threat to safety. When police arrived on scene the child was banging her head against her desk, which suggested that she was in emotional distress. It is likely that the child needed support processing her emotions, and that maybe she needed attention (maybe a hug) from an someone who cared about her and whom she trusted. The fact that the child had apparently had many incidents such as this, suggested that she may have needed ongoing social/emotional support. Instead, the police were called. Instead of de-escalating the situation, the police then handcuffed the child by her wrists, as well as by her ankles. This was an act of excessive and humiliating violence, and one that will be potentially traumatic for a very young child. What leads an adult principal (trained to support children) to seek the assistance of a police officer (whose job is address crime) in calming down a 6 year-old child is anti-Black racism.

In 2008, Toronto Police Services implemented something called the SRO (School Resource Officer) program. The SRO Program is part of TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy). TAVIS is a program that was implemented to curb gun violence by increasing police presence in specifically designated areas of Toronto, which included many Black neighbourhoods. The SRO program specifically placed police officers in a number of schools across Toronto with the goal of improving relationships between youth and police. By 2011, about fifty schools had School Resource officers, including a large number of schools in majority Black neighbourhoods, and including not only high schools but elementary schools (serving children from 3 and a half to 12 years-old). This means that Black children increasingly have police present in their schools, and police brought in to assist with conduct issues and conflicts between students and between students and teachers. This affects Black children in many ways.

This affects Black children and youth psychologically. They may wonder why it is a necessary to have a police officer present in their place of learning to survey them constantly. It affects Black children in terms of increased violent incidents with police. We remember the case of Spring Valley High School where a police dragged a teenage Black girl out of her desk and threw her against a wall. It affects Black children with disabilities because Black students with behavioural “exceptionalities”/disabilities are often the ones being suspended and going through other punitive processes at school. It affects Black children with disabilities because they are then at an increased risk being referred to Ontario Youth Corrections due to their behaviour at school. It affect Black children because youth are one of the fastest growing prison population in Ontario, and so are Black women.

 Shabina: Can you talk about some transformative models used to implement disability justice within a classroom to keep Black youth in particular safe, nurtured and humanized?

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense created a school called the Oakland Community School, and the school did not use punitive measures such as detention, suspensions, expulsions, or even timeouts. Instead they had something called the Youth Justice League. Through the Youth Justice league, youth (in the presence of an adult) would be responsible for addressing conduct issues that occurred in the classroom. For example, a young child who did not do their homework would go to the Youth Justice League for what they called “course correction”. The youth would ask the children why for example, they didn’t do their homework. The child would then outline the reason why they didn’t do their homework. The youth justice league would suggest ways for the child to correct the issue. They would ask the child what support they needed in making the correction. This is an example a transformative justice model because the Oakland Community School transformed the circumstances in which education took place. It transformed dynamics of power so that Black and Latinx communities decided what kind of education was appropriate for their children. It transformed dynamics of power in that it gave opportunities to youth to experience the same power as teachers (decide on course content, co-teach lessons etc). In an event that a conduct issue arose it gave power to children in terms of being accountable to each other rather than an authority figure. They were given a chance to talk about their level of engagement in what they were learning, and being given support to address their own behaviour. This is crucial for children with disabilities because punishment is not appropriate when your what is seen as inappropriate behaviour might happen because of a cognitive disorder or something else beyond your control. Disabilities justice means that transforming the spaces that we are part of to be accessible and sustainable and to prioritize people with disabilities. People with disabilities cannot be honoured within an educational institution that corrects atypical behaviour through punishment, isolation, violence, or humiliation.

Shabina: How can teachers stand in solidarity with Black youth living with ADD and ADHD?

1.Teachers working within the system should recognize ourselves as an arm of the state, and therefore an arm of state violence. We must, wherever possible, intervene in the routine intervention into and harassment of the Black family by police and Childrens Aid Society.

2.Nerotypical people and neurotypical adults must take leadership from people with disabilities in how to transform our classrooms and educational spaces into spaces that are accessible.

3.Educators must respect, love, and share power with Black families, students, and communities


Leroi Newbold
Leroi Newbold is a parent, community organizer, and educator and curriculum designer.  Leroi is inaugural staff and Grade 1 teacher at Canada’s first public Africentric School.  He organizes on the steering committee of BlackLivesMatter – Toronto and is the director of BlackLivesMatter – Toronto Freedom School.

Shabina Lafleur-Gangji
Shabina is a queer mixed race weird witchy lady from Guelph who is into community organizing and revolution.