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.

We Are From Africa

A blue illustration of the African continent

By Donat and Lidia

We are from Africa
A continent yet so a country
The land of all
A mother of all
The land of lands
A temple for harmony
So peaceful yet so rightful
A continent that craves beauty
Yet filled with so much aestheticity
Garnished with abundant gold
Enthroned with ivory and silk
That’s our Africa
 
I am from East Africa
Where we love and cherish
Where our blood
Is a reflection of our flag
Where I am my brothers keeper
Where our anthems are blessings in disguise
Where I am from
The forbidden fruit
All of a sudden is not so forbidden anymore
East Africa! The jewel, the pearl
East Africa! Our golden trophy
 
We are from the horn
We are like lions
The pride of our own
The little star of culture
Shining deep in the heart of the continent
We seat strangers to the seas
Just as told by our Mediterranean
Just as told by our Red Sea
“The land of the barbarians”
Our peninsula…
The blessing you offer
Is the blessing you are
Shine no less brighter
But yet warmer.
 
I am from the south,
Amidst the greatness of Rustenberg
I dream of you at night
I dream of your light,
Your warmth,
Your compassion,
Is it still there?
The spirit of Ubuntu that captured our hearts
Is it still there?
Your rich soul that leads me through the road of Jozi
Oh my South Africa!
I dream of you at night.
                                                                                               

Donat and Lidia are grade 11 students at Our Lady Of Lourdes Catholic High School. They both left Eritrea at the age 4 and 5. Lidia went to Uganda and Donat went to South Africa. Donat immigrated to Canada on the 13th September 2018 and Lidia on the 24th April 2017. They are both cousins who love each other so much.

Claiming Our Clean Food Sovereignty

An Interview with The Black Farmers and Food Growers Collective

by Adabu Brownhill

Adabu: Who established the organization? When?

BFFGC: The Black Farmers and Food Growers Collective came out of the oppression of the Black Creek Community Farm located in the Jane & Steeles area, where infamous Jane and Finch is just south of the farm. The Collective was established by the Afro-farmers and local community members to address and dismantle racism and oppression as it pertains to our food system as well as the generational food oppression coming out of slavery. We are one of three local cross-cultural food access hubs in partnership with FoodShare Toronto funded through the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Access and Equity Toronto. We are still learning about some of our culturally appropriate foods from Africa and our vast afro food culture, we are also working to connect with other afro farmers in the diaspora from the Caribbean to share farming and food knowledge as it pertains to the afro-people’s experiences in the diaspora. The organization got started in 2013 officially after the Intensive Leadership Facilitation Training (ILFT), working to dismantle racism and food oppression in the food system as it pertains to the community. This training was done by “Growing Power” from Milwaukee and Chicago through the partnership with Foodshare Toronto local Empowerment Group (LEG), “Growing Food Justice For All Initiative.”

 

A: What is the main goal or vision of Black Farmers and Food Collective?

BFFGC: One of the main goals of the collective is to ensure that the “clean” (organic) food we grow gets distributed through collaborative partnerships such as pop-up communal markets in fresh food oppressed communities that are affordable and sustainable. Also encourage communal growing so food-insecure and oppressed members of the community can and will have access to clean and affordable local, culturally appropriate food that can be grown in Canada in the short growing season through collaborative efforts and participation.

A: Who is mainly involved with the organization? Do you have many participants from the Black community?

BFFGC: We are farmers, food growers, small food business owners and food-insecure families and individuals –eight members thus far. Our Collective presently are all Afro-people from the Caribbean, Canada and Africa. We get volunteers from right across the ethnic board. People have been stoked by what we’ve been able to accomplish this year, its magnitude, and the variety of crops we’ve grown.

A: Do you have garden space that you use to grow food? How does that work?

BFFGC: This year we rented a half acre of land from Fresh City Farms – a local organic farm that operates out of Downsview Parkc at Keele & Sheppard Ave, West. We had written formally to the Black Creek Community Farm steering committee in 2014 and made a request for an acre of the land to do the work we are now doing but our request was laid under the rug and locked away! We are now working towards our own farm and growing spaces in the city with future community collaborations wishing to address food security and food justice issues as they pertain to affordable and sustainable and other racialized communities.

A: In my experience agriculture in Ontario is extremely dominated by white people. What are your views on this? Do you feel that Black Farmers and Food Collective address the issue of environmental racism?

BFFGC: Yes, I agree with you but once upon a time we had productive and stable farming communities; this was how we fed ourselves and shared food with each other– trading through commerce and land ownership. After our younger generations left their communities for the big cities they abandoned their roots in the agricultural sector and assimilated into the wider food culture which has impacted us in a very negative way through many types and diseases and sickness. Historically we were also driven off land and much of  this lands  was used to redevelop middle to high-income communities, unfortunately just like like all the other oppressive tactics perpetrated against us these issues were swept under the rug! As a collective member I have the right to live, work, contribute, play and invest in myself and my community just as any other ethnic groups in Ontario and I can do it anywhere in any community I choose. This is what we do presently, we share space with such a high profile farm in the local urban sphere. Our encouragement to community is to empower them through a variety of engagements. We work with our community as they come and we meet them where they are presently but we ensure we leave them more empowered than how we found them through the work we are doing to dismantle racism and oppression and to empower ourselves and the community.

A:  Can you tell me about what kinds of things volunteers can get involved with?

BFFGC: Yes, we welcome volunteers to help us in capacities that they are knowledgeable or want to learn with us. We are still grassroots but are working towards developing and becoming an independent local cross-cultural food access innovation hub for Afro-people and other community members who wants to support our work and experiences.

For more information, check out www.blackfarmersto.wordpress.com


 

Adabu Brownhill
Adabu Brownhill (DurtyDabz) is a Black/Mixed, Queer, FemmeBro dedicated to fighting for Mother Earth and the Liberation of Black & Indigenous Peoples and All People Of Colour. She is a badass DJ as well as a passionate gardener. She strives to decolonize agriculture in Ontario and create farming/gardening spaces that are fun and kool for racialized folks. She dreams of a farm where People Of Colour be chillin’, bumpin hella beats, planting seeds, harvesting herbs and eating gourmet meals while making jokes and enjoying each other’s company. She draws inspiration from radical underground artists such as Junglepussy, Destiny Frasqueri (Princess Nokia), Jay Boogie and Le1f. Her favorite foods are spicy meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.

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.

Black Mental Health & Self Determined Futures

by Louise Boileau

A friend went to a youth shelter when it was cold. He was in distress, having a mental health crisis. He was told firmly to leave, or else they would call the police.

In July 2015, police arrived at subsidized housing unit at Eglinton West and Gilbert Ave, and murdered Andrew Loku within 20 seconds of seeing him. His house was a block up the street from Horizons for Youth, a shelter where my friend was living at the time.

The question has come to my mind helplessly many times: Where does a Black person in a mental health crisis go when they need help?

Left Illustration by Eli WiPe 

There is no safe place to go in this city when experiencing crisis where a black person will not be treated as a threat; including in one’s own home, be that a shelter or a private residence. It is a tired fact and one that requires urgent attention, that Black youth are treated as a problem in Toronto, on many institutional levels.

If reproductive justice is the ability to raise children in a community that is free from violence, it must also encompass mental health, and our ability to receive culturally relevant supports without being isolated or removed from the community, whether it be by child welfare, push out from school, incarceration or institutionalization.

 In the school system, Black youth experiencing anxiety, depression and trauma (which can manifest in many ways), are often summarized as having behavioural issues and are discarded. Expulsions as early as grade one show the incredible reach of anti-Blackness – that a child could be considered not worthy of an education and so lacking in hope for their potential that they should be isolated from their peers and “expelled” from opportunity. The treatment of Black students, and the problematization of Blackness at early ages is consistent with Black overrepresentation in the criminal system.

 Although Black communities represent 3% of the general population in Canada, we represent 9% of the prison population. People with mental health challenges are overwhelmingly filtered into the prison system. So, the chances of a Black person with mental health challenges spending timae in prison at some point in their life is extremely high. Furthermore, mental health challenges such as psychosis and paranoia are so extremely stigmatized, those who experience these symptoms are ostracized and isolated especially when they are most in need of support.

A Punitive Model Across The Board

When you begin to look at the methods of management in the education system, prison and hospital systems, the approach to Black students, youth and adults are very coordinated.

It seems that each uses a punitive approach to trauma, where Black people are being punished, ostracized and further traumatized for needing support, expressing anxiety, depression or distress, even though we are experiencing some of these things as a direct result of the hostile environment we are in.

In psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, there seems to be a chronic issue of overuse of force and restraints. On paper, restraints are meant to be used as a last resort measure. For those who are unfamiliar, to place someone in restraints is to secure them to a bed using straps. First, however, the person is forcibly sedated, sometimes by as many as 8 people (as a friend recounted), and then have their pants brought down so that they can be injected with a sedative in the buttocks. Then they are transported to a bed, and secured with the restraints for an unspecified period of time. A friend recounts being placed back in restraints whenever a nurse who didn’t like them would come back on shift. When she left her shift, they would be released. This is against standard protocol which dictates that restraints are to be used only in extreme situations, where staff either fear the “patient” will harm themselves or somebody else. So their discretion on using restraints lies on their perception of whether or not the “patient” is a threat. It is unreasonable to assume that anti-Blackness never plays a role in their decisions.

Placing a person in isolation is another approach, on paper, used to maintain “patient” or worker safety. However, I have also known it to be used in reaction to something a “worker didn’t like” about a patient, where the patient was then placed in isolation for a period of weeks, and was disallowed from contacting family or advocates. The use of isolation has drastic negative mental health impacts on any person, as has been documented in relation to the use of solitary confinement in prison and remand centres, where most of Canada’s imprisoned population are kept awaiting trial.

Remand facilities receive no resources or training in terms of caring for a person undergoing mental health challenges. Their primary go to, for the “safety” of the person imprisoned (the inmate), is to place them in solitary confinement. Furthermore, people are often denied their right to healthcare, medications or otherwise while in remand. The numbers and demographics of solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons and remand centres is not publicized, similar to the numbers and demographics of deaths inside both prisons and psychiatric institutions.

A Picture of The Mental Health System in Ontario

The mental health system in Ontario is a network of services and institutions, that follow two models intended to work together. The first is the the community based model which is meant to allow people access to support while staying within their communities. and The second is the institutional or medical model, which includes both inpatient and outpatient programs such as CAMH. The community model of mental health services is relatively new and certainly not perfect. Many services are rarely accessed by youth of colour, or and present services are often not culturally relevant.

Only two services in Toronto, that I am aware of, provide services focused on racialized people, and there is only one that provides counselling specifically for Black people in all of Canada. Across Boundaries, and The Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) which runs as a program out of CAMH.

The SAPACCY program began in 1996 from community concerns over the amount of Black youth incarcerated for drug related crimes. It was proposed to the ministry and then amalgamated into the CAMH Queen and Shaw location. The SAPACCY program, due to lack of allocated resources is currently hanging on by a thread with only one counsellor with an unusually large caseload, and an even larger waitlist. The waitlist includes only those people who qualified for the services because they are in the catchment area. CAMH recently received a donation of $100 million. It appears they are determined to allocate these funds entirely towards “high-risk” research and the hiring of “top scientists,” in the midst of our current housing and resource crisis. What they intend to research, and how this is suppose to help anyone, I am unsure.

Toronto Police Services & The Mental Health System

The mental health system in Ontario maintains a tight relationship with Toronto Police Services (TPS). The Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), which is intended to respond to mental health crisis, is a partnership between Toronto Police Services and participating hospitals. The team is a mental health nurse and a police officer (who may or may not be trained by the TPS in mental health awareness). To what extent they receive any training on de-escalation is entirely unclear. The Mobile Crisis team is only available between the hours of 6am and 11pm. TPS is usually the first point of contact for people undergoing mental health crisis. Police officers may bring the detained person to a hospital, where they will be kept for anywhere from an hour to several weeks if admitted. Or they may be charged with an offence and placed in remand.

To call the police in the case of a crisis, is to risk the death of yourself, your family member or friend. But this is the only option presented in a mental health related emergency. Even if a person calls the MCIT, they are still calling the police. There is little assurance that this is in anyway a safer option. At the many times I have made a list in my head of the greatest risk to my family members’ life, police interactions was always the one I feared most.

 The only route made available to access mental health care in crisis is the trauma of police services, and the trauma of psychiatric institutionalization. If we must cope with the pain inflicted on us by those systems that we are asked to call supports than we have very few options at all within the current structure of mental health care.

Community-Led & Self Determined Futures

Because of shame and exhaustion it is often difficult to seek out community or support services. Although we must teach ourselves how to navigate systems and how to survive, there is little space to share these tools with each other.

Intercepting the Pipeline to Prison is a project, lead by Black youth, to address the intersection of mental health, anti-Blackness and criminalization. It is a project created to share survival skills and strategies and to document our experiences. We have developed workshops in three streams: Youth Justice and Advocacy, Family and Community and Creative Solutions. The workshops provide skill building on safety tools for interactions with police, getting access to advocates while in remand, daily self care and coping methods, discussing mental health in our families, the ways we do support and advocate in our families and communities and how to strengthen them, and designing the kind of supports that we would like to see gain funding. In these community conversations we will have the opportunity to pool our knowledge and skills and create take-away resources for each other. The workshops are written from a lived experience perspective, with supports from our organizational mentors such as Legal Swipe. The Project also includes a short documentary interviewing Black youth on their experiences surviving, accessing services, living and creating.

We are creating spaces where we are able to talk about things we have never felt safe bringing up in mental health care spaces, institutional or otherwise: Anti-Blackness as we see and feel it in the mental health system, Caribbean perspectives on mental health, spiritual affliction, “pray it away” and stigma in the Church, spiritual or religious supports that we need, how the option of medication can be complicated by medical trauma, self-determination and the need for supports where people look you in the eye and understand you beyond the idea that you are an impossible problem.

 We believe it is within the community; friends, family, partners and chosen family that long-term support for mental health come from. And any service or support that a person seeks along the way should strengthen their chosen support circle.

 There are many directions to work in and issues to tackle; prison reform and abolition, deinstitutionalization, and the creation of Black-focused mental health supports that strengthen the community. There are conversations and actions happening now in regards to Anti-Blackness in the Peel Board lead by community, the scrapping of the SRO program (s/o to the many people who worked tirelessly for that), the Black Youth Action Plan, and the 10 year health accord that will see $1.9 billion allocated to mental health initiatives in Ontario over the next decade.

 It is a very important time to document our experiences, demand resources, and lead solutions as we connect the conversations on Anti-Blackness to mental health and the criminal system.

 If you are interested in getting involved in the project as a youth, mentor, interviewee, creative collaborator, researcher etc., or you have questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch by email at interceptingthepipeline@gmail.com or by phone at 647-207-9376. We are also interested in Indigenous community collaboration on the project.


Lou Boileau
Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Eli Wipe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

Project Future is Now

by Savannah Clarke, Alana Siloch and Kaya DeCosta

                  We would like to give thanks to having the opportunity to work on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. The territory was the subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto (from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto) is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island.

Project Future is a six-month mentorship program run through the Children’s Peace Theatre, that celebrates the voices of Black and Indigenous artists while offering mentorship and tools for a new future. Working with an incredible line up of leading artists from multidisciplinary backgrounds (i.e. music, theatre, visual arts etc.), Project Future offers land-based creative development and permaculture earthwork. With mentorship and teachings from their elders, the young artists are given tools to grow both as individual and socially conscious artists. As the program culminated this past September, we sat down and reflected on a few of the workshops and teachings we experienced.

Permaculture with The Stop

The Stop Community Food Centre contributed permaculture teachings throughout the duration of the program. Joce Tremblay shared teachings on seeds, food justice and re-indigenizing food growth in the city. Joce also led members through The Stop’s extensive greenhouse, sharing knowledge about how to care for plants as well as how to interact with them. The Stop also led Project Future in an onsite planting project. Joce and Melisse provided seeds of the three sisters, corn, beans and squash, for us to plant. Over the course of Project Future, we watched the sisters grow and thrive. It was very much a reflection of our own growth as a collective. We cultivated land around Children’s Peace Theatre, which was the base of the program. Space was made to plant many different species indigenous to Tkaronto. While we planted, we learned about caring for plants through a more holistic approach and how to treat colonial plants that may be invasive but also have purpose.

Savannah: “One of the most beautiful things for me was talking to the plants, asking permission and giving thanks. We built such an intense relationship with them. Also, I was pleasantly surprised at how much learning about the land and caring for the land informed my writing process. We are so similar! Learning about these plants, their history and life force really grounded me and reminded me how small we are in this world.

Alana: “The Stop was beautiful, full of information about plants and seeds, the greenhouse they have is amazing and very well taken care of. As soon as you walk into the greenhouse the air is so pure and full of life. We got our hands dirty in the fresh soil, tasted some of the plant’s leaves, and connect with the plants. The staff made an amazing meal for us and the ingredients all came from their garden”.

Kaya: “I loved going to The Stop and receiving teachings on tobacco. We learned about how ancient of a plant it is and how plentiful it’s seed pods are. We also got to interact with corn that came from seeds passed down through many generations of selective planting. Being able to interact with a product of such ancient technology was quite spectacular.

Talking Treaties with Ange Loft Talking & Treaties Rehearsal and Performance

Project future first met with artist Ange Loft for her facilitation on Talking Treaties; a combination of history, visual arts, and an audio collage. First, we listened to some audio clips of Indigenous elders from the Tkaronto community speak on the One Dish One Spoon Treaty. While listening to the clips we made associations with symbols and words to later use when we created stamps. These stamps were a representation of what stood out to us, and they were used as a contribution to a prop in the Talking Treaties production. Through Ange’s facilitation we learned how to reuse someone else’s creation and transform it into a new creation. By tying all our creations about the disparities and betrayal with the Treaties put together, Ange used it as a symbolic prop in the Treaties production.

Project future also had the honour of being a part of the production and joined Ange and the production crew during rehearsal sessions. We were taught the choreography and performed the piece at Fort York for the Indigenous Arts Festival.

Alana: “It was amazing opportunity to learn how to create through the concept of recycling art. The concept of using everyone’s thoughts on the Treaties to be represented as one big symbolic prop speak to the audience.”

Savannah: Coming into the program late I was not able to take part in the first workshop with Ange Loft but I had the opportunity to be an extra body during rehearsals. It was such a privilege learning about the Dish with One Spoon treaty through the means of theatre. I thought a lot about how stories of this treaty are often told, what aspects are left out and who are usually telling them.

Kaya: The Talking Treaties production was so immersive and collaborative. It really inspired me to think more about community based projects and the diverse ways of storytelling. Being able to work so closely with such a powerhouse in the Indigenous arts community was a privilege.

INTRODUCTION TO DRAMATURGY WITH JILL CARTER

Jill Carter is an actress, performer and professor at the University of Toronto. She led us in several different performance and story weaving based workshops. Jill also led us on a walk around the UofT campus where several buried rivers are. On this walk, she shared the buried history of how colonization affected that area, as well as how it continues to thrive. She posed this history in relation to how Tkaronto is built on a system of rivers, which continue to run under it. In her workshops, Jill asked us to reflect upon our relationship to our bodies and land. She shared techniques for harnessing different energies in our body, and kinetically connecting with other bodies. These activities challenged us to abandon insecurities around using our voices and bodies to express our ideas. Jill also shared her extensive knowledge on story weaving and invited us to engage with each other’s ideas to strengthen them. Jill really helped us gain confidence in our ideas for the culminating festival.

Kaya: The rivers that are still running underneath the monstrosity of industrial Tkaronto give me hope. They to me are metaphors for the spirits of the land protectors and land warriors that remain strong against the colonial regime.

Alana: Walking around Tkaronto and listening to the knowledge, and answers to what was here before. This land has deep history from Indigenous nations. It was an honour having Jill shed her wisdom and knowledge on what the colonizers have buried. The rivers continue to run, if you listen closely you may hear them.

Savannah: In terms of our story weaving workshop, I remember leaving feeling so rejuvenated and reflected a lot on what it means to listen to my body when telling stories and what weaving means when collaborating with other storytellers. What aspects of our own stories we have in common? What  is different? How do we interpret each other’s stories? Also, I really wish I was there for that tour. I remember seeing a map of Tkaronto pre-colonization and being absolutely amazed at how many rivers had been built over.

Writing while Black/ Indigenous w/ Whitney French

Writer Whitney French facilitated two-part futurities, racialized writing workshop with Project Future. In our writing pieces, we reflected on connections with our ancestors, the land, and futuristic thoughts. We did different writing exercises, first Whitney would read out a word and we would have to write one word that pops into our head, after writing down a couple of words we chose 3 and made a sentence out of them. The second exercise we did was with the sentence “there are pyramids in my backyard”, it was interesting to see how everyone’s piece turned out. We also played a storytelling game where Whitney brought in a list of different fantasy plot settings and we rolled a die to create our own world where our stories would take place. We then all created our own stories based on this futuristic /fantasy world.

Alana: “I tend to stick to Westernized genres and plots (not on purpose), this workshop opened my mind to exploring new themes and ideas consisting of non-human shapeshifters”

Kaya: Whitney’s writing activities re-lit my fire in terms of writing. She reminded me how important it is to write, especially if it something you do to heal. Regardless of what you are writing, just start! Through writing, we can construct alternative narratives, futurist ones, that are often excluded from the canon.

Savannah: There is something so beautiful about envisioning a future separate from our current reality. In writing and Afro-futurism or Indigenous-futurism it can look like so many different things. These workshops affirm that our stories are relevant, important and essential. Even if we just write for fun and nobody but us sees our pieces, it’s still relevant.

Savannah’s Project Future Journal Entry                   July 13

I am the plant that adapts but needs to be very grounded to do so. Like a vine. It takes them a long time to get to where they need to be but they get there. They spend their whole life span getting as close to the light as they can (like in the tropics). The light for me is divinity and actualizing. The energy that drives me is to better understand myself. I must admit I’m not as hard bodied as my vine friends but like them I will “grow” and learn to adapt.

My roots

It grounds me

I swirl around the base

As i move towards the divine

We share so we can survive

I help others but my journey is my own

I need others but my journey is my own


 

Savannah Clarke
Savannah Clarke is a young performing artist. She has recently graduated with her undergraduate and is an alumni of the Watah Theatre. She is now currently growing her art form. Her art has always been attached to her identity as a black queer woman and she strongly believes that storytelling is essential for the movement of black liberation.  While she continues to unearth what her artistry can look like, she stays committed to connecting and understanding the integrity of its roots.

Kaya DaCosta
Kaya DaCosta is a mixed Black Indigenous multi-disciplinary artist whose work explores themes of identity, femininity and land connection. Her visual work draws inspiration from nature, hip hop and fantasy, providing eclectic styles from which to work with. Using bright colours, mixed media and obscure character design, Kaya’s work is a reflection of her experiences as a young woman of colour navigating through the world. Kaya is currently completing a Bachelor of Design degree at the Ontario College of Art and Design University.

Alana Siloch
Alana Siloch is an upcoming artist inspired by her Caribbean ancestors who constantly call to her. She sleeps, eats and breaths her Jamaican and Trinidadian roots. Alana is currently completing her undergraduate studies at Ryerson University in the Child and Youth Care Program. Alana see’s the potential the future generations have and hopes to be ally in fighting against social injustices for all people.

Social Justice Educators: A Note on Your Authority and Power

An illustration of a desk with books and pencils and a raised fist statue. the chalk board reads "anti-oppression 101 E=mc2 (a+b)"

By: Dr. Darrick Smith

                 Many teachers that pursue a mission of social justice struggle with the question of authority in their classroom. After all, the idea of having Authority over someone can feel largely contradictory to a teacher that seeks to spread a sense of fairness inequality amongst the student population. Many of us recall our first moments as activists against injustice as childhood memories of standing up against an authority figure that was in our eyes mis-using their power. As educators that seek to inspire Young people to follow their hearts in situations in which they are facing a mis-use or abuse of power. Negotiating our role as powerful figures in classroom spaces can feel a bit tricky. Further complicating things is the role that schools have played in the history of oppression and colonialism.

                      For many of us who have studied critical theory and the ills of capitalist institutions, we may understand the role of schools as part of Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, or Althusser’s idea of the school replacing the church as the most formidable of ideological state apparatuses. Through a critical lens, we tend to view schools as mechanisms intended to convince the populace to accept the stratified nature of our society and the subjugated position of the working class.

        At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada experience bullying each year1. In the U.S., a national survey showed that 20.2% of students reported being bullied on school property and 15.5% reported being bullied electronically during the 12 months before the survey2. In the U.S. reports have shown that nearly half of students may experience some form of sexual harassment3

As educators, we have come to understand the soul-stripping, culture-destroying capacity of schools through examining critical authors such as bell hooks, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Gloria Ladson Billings, Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren and many others who examine the destructive nature of schools through the neocolonial manifestations of classical attempts to “civilize” or “improve” the marginalized of our society. At the core of these ideas sits perhaps the most pivotal professional role in the area of human development in a democratic society-The educator. For our purposes as we understand schools as communities in which people can work together to create an environment in which humans can thrive as healthy community members, we’ll extend our idea of the educator past that of the classroom teacher and include administrators, counselors, and supporting staff alike. All of these positions serve as teachers. And as such all of these positions must struggle with the tension of having an interest in developing free and empowered human beings while serving as an authority figure within a historically repressive system that often functions to maintain a stratified social structure. For those of us that pursue social justice, this dynamic weighs heavy on our minds each day as we try and straddle the line between developing free minds and keeping our jobs. But this issue does not need to be one of great

 


1. Molcho M., Craig W., Due P., Pickett W., Harel-fisch Y., Overpeck, M., and HBSC Bullying Writing Group. Cross-national time trends in bullying behaviour 1994-2006: findings from Europe and North America. International Journal of Public Health. 2009, 54 (S2): 225-234

2.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Understanding school violence: Fact sheet. Atlanta, CA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. Hill, C., Kearl, H., & American Association of University Women. (2011). Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School (No. 978-1-8799-2241–9). American Association of University Women.

 

conflict an inner turmoil. The idea of authority can inspire a different conceptual relationship If we understand authority not as an impetus for control and repression but rather a responsibility to guide, and in doing so, maintain boundaries, sustain a sense of safety, and model community-minded decision-making. 

Social Justice is not a behaviour or a statement, but rather a condition. A condition that many of us seek to establish that constitutes a vaguely described ideal of a fair and humanizing political, economic, and social order. However, our calls for the establishment of such a condition, when clarified, can describe the various “destinations” for our journey, but not the pathways to such ideal conditions. This makes sense given the situational nature of resistance and the myriad of spaces and contexts that we might locate as the foci of our endeavors. But as educators, we don’t have to be vague in our understanding of the pathways to social justice because we have an advantage in the realm of clarifying our situation, space, and context. As opposed to other professionals in this world, we work in spaces specifically designed to influence and shape the human consciousness. We are put in position in which we have the ability to mold the content, processes, physical environment, ambitions, and relational boundaries for human beings. In other words: As educators, we are the caretakers and executors for most potent dynamic in the struggle for social change- learning. Even so, we find ourselves seeking to define the core of our social change work and activism through efforts that exist outside of our schools. This is not exclusively so. In our workplaces we mistakenly view student matriculation rates, graduation rates, and social service projects as our social justice work in schools. Many of us will rightfully include narratives, generative themes, and the exploration of conventionally taboo realities into our curriculum. And while these practices can certainly impact how students understand their world, they do not explicitly challenge students to “be” different as they walk through the world in the now. They do not challenge students to stop bullying one another or humiliating one another in-person or online. Content can shift understanding, but it does not in itself establish or maintain expectations and boundaries as to how one must speak, move, or listen for the purposes of liberation.

When we teach students about the realities of injustice and successes of their communities they can learn valuable lessons about the beauty and pain from which they came while also understanding the expansive possibilities for change. But where and when are they expected to manifest the lessons from this material? Where, when, and how do we challenge them to “act like they know”?

Often times it is easier for us to confuse the behaviours of an authoritarian mindset with the context of authority. As social justice educators, the distinctions between these two must be clear, but more so, a clarity must be established as to both the necessity for the embracing of one’s power as an educator and ethical foundations that frame its use. While, as Paulo Freire warned, it is essential that we do not become oppressors in pursuit of liberation, it is also important that we don’t set our expectations of our students in the areas of effort, behaviour academic performance, and healthy relationships to the low depths of those that profile, stereotype, marginalize, and target them. This balancing act between controlling and guidance can only be achieved if we are clear as to our responsibility as it is connected to a particular vision. Authority without humility and a purpose of community-empowerment becomes corrupt. For so many educators it is the very power of their position that they value and it is disconnected from any larger vision that guides their daily manifestation of their authority.

If we seek to establish a condition of justice in an unjust social order, we are engaging ourselves in a conflict. One cannot enter a conflict with only facts and knowledge. As educators, we could consider these elements as essential tools that our students need for the battles ahead. But the missing link in many of our educational spaces for social justice is an emphasis on the behaviours and attitudes that challenge oppression and provide context for the wielding of such tools.

The authority of the educator allows for them to make decisions and set expectations for students that create boundaries for how the student is expected to “be” in that space- how students are expected to talk and move and be with each other. This represents the core of the school’s culture. Culture is incredibly important because it is the culture of the school that serves as the greatest instructor. As culture is defined as artifacts, language, rituals, and beliefs, it is important to understand that a huge portion of the schooling experience involves exchanges and interactions with people in the building, as well as the landscape of the campus. Who sets the boundaries for how people are treated, who contextualize his meaning for all of these interactions that are occurring as part of the school environment? Who must maintain these ideas around meaning, purpose, human value throughout this school year for the duration of a child’s development? As educators it is our responsibility to develop and help maintain an atmosphere in which students are learning how to value themselves as peers, the adults who serve them, and the exercise of learning for the purposes of personal and communal development.

When you find yourself questioning how you can make more of a dent in our world of poverty, struggle and repression, look to the opportunities you have to guide students in their daily behaviour to manifest the beautiful side of humanity. This cannot be done by passively hoping for change or softening expectations, but through clear communication and the consistent implementation of fair boundaries and support systems. As educators, we must embrace our power for the purposes of humanization. And as we acknowledge that dehumanization not only occurs systemically or in faraway places, but right in front of us in schools, we must stand in our responsibility as guides in our learning spaces in the interest of developing students beyond what they know, but what they do each day- now.


 

Darrick Smith, ED. D.
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of San Francisco and Co-Director of the School of Education’s Transformative School Leadership (TSL) program. 

Re-envisioning Our Communities

blue, black and white illustration of 3 brown kids happily eating cupcakes

Facilitated by: Shabina Lafleur-Gangji 

Why are so many of our QTBIPOC (queer and trans black, indigenous and people of colour) spaces so often inaccessible to parents and kids? What do we need to do to change that dynamic? How do we build community and movements of inter-generational voices that don’t just simply leave people behind when they have kids? These were the questions I was asking myself and so I decided to explore these questions in a roundtable discussion with a few racialized queer/trans parents.

Shabina: Can you introduced yourselves?

LeRoi: I’m LeRoi and I’m an educator at Africentric Alternative School and an organizer for BlackLivesMatter Toronto. I have a two and a half year old whom I’ve single-parented since he was born…although I recently decided to start co-parenting with someone who has always been FAM to us.

QueenTite: I am QueenTite, owner of Natty (natural mobile salon), Co- founding director of PFFD inc, and creator of QTPOC – Toronto. I am single mother to 18 year old Ayomide and 7 year old Iahnijah of Nigerian/Jamaican Roots.

Akio – I am human rights activist and  a Mother of 8 year old multiracial child of Black and Métis heritage with one on the way

Amandeep: My name is Amandeep Kaur and I have two kids aged 2 and 4 years.

Shabina: How do you find navigating queer/trans spaces as a parent? Do you find most spaces are accessible to you?

QueenTite: I find navigating queer spaces as a parent kind of challenging. I am still new to the city, so I haven’t had much opportunity to explore…but I don’t find [queer spaces] really available. Finding events that are family-friendly have been challenging.

Akio: Navigating queer spaces as a parent is hard, as it often feels like I have to create the spaces for myself or fight to have the space accessible to me and my spawn. Which I often don’t have time or energy for.

LeRoi: I find navigating queer/trans spaces as a parent to be challenging sometimes. There are some queer Black events and spaces that I’ve gone to that have been really dope for bringing kids, but I feel like there’s a lot of emphasis on creating queer/trans spaces for youth and not much for older people…I think lots of times people don’t think of making events accessible to parents if they haven’t grown up with lots of kids in their life. Also in terms of community organizing spaces sometimes there is just no effort to accommodate parents. I’ve brought my kid to meetings before when he was really little and spent the whole time chasing him around the hallways of Flemington Park Community Centre while everyone just continued their conversation.

S: What have you found really helpful in making community spaces accessible to you?

QueenTite: I have found having ECE (Early Childhood Education) educators present to engage the youths is helpful and a room equipped with fun stuff.

Akio: Most spaces aren’t accessible to me nor any of my intersectionalities.

POC spaces aren’t sex worker positive, queer spaces too white and all of them are very clique-y and no one considers that parents have value and therefore they should have accessibilities for us. So Basically I have to A) create my own, or B) work with/fight with the organizers to create space that’s safe and accessible (found this easier in queer white spaces than queer POC spaces)

LeRoi: What helps to make spaces accessible to me is parties in the daytime. They have this dope party for BIPOC queers in Oakland where people turn up from like 2 to 8pm. I really wish we had that here. Cuz even if I get childcare to go out at night, nobody’s tryin’ to wake up at 7am with my son.

LeRoi: Yea, childcare being offered is helpful to me, but I also like when people just find ways to make spaces engaging for kids, like the other day I went to the book launch for “I Love Being Black”. They had a bunch of play-dough set up in one corner of the rooms for kids to sit and play. There was food like samosas and cupcakes…and there was a big chalkboard for kids to write about what they love about being Black. So in that way it was like kids were invited to be part of the event and to contribute. That was dope.

QueenTite: I’d like a community of willing affordable sitters also.

LeRoi: Yes to affordable baby sitters…cuz sometimes you can’t bring your kid to childcare at an event. If they have to nap or something and they wont sleep in a room full of people. Also I like when I bring my kid somewhere and people explicitly tell me not worry about him making noise or crying…then I feel like I can relax a bit more

QueenTite: Sometimes I don’t want to beg my child – I want me time to network and such. But affordable sitters are not accessible to me. Charging nearly fifiteen dollars per hour with no masters in parenting.

Amandeep: That event sounds amazing! and I wanted to agree with the point about more affordable sitters..

LeRoi: I feel like what actually ends up making events more accessible to me when there’s no childcare offered is friends taking turns kicking it with my kid..taking him outside to go crawl all on stuff or into the hallway to be loud…Other parents I know end up being the ones to do that lots of the time.

Akio: yeah, always.

LeRoi: Also people in my life who spend time with my son ‘cuz they want to build a relationship with him and ‘cuz they have privilege and time…

QueenTite: I know nobody so I don’t have that option… I haven’t entered any cliques, it’s just me. But yes what a blessing – and a necessity.

Akio: Yep, the folks that usually want to help with my child are usually white people.

LeRoi: Yeah, I’ve had that experience too…

Amandeep: Having more folks want to make the trip to where I live cuz they want to spend time with my kids doesn’t happen often enough. I am fortunate to have my mom and my sister on occasion but feel I don’t have any other friends to rely on now.. the dayjam idea sounds too good though..its being intergenerational, being able to connect in different parts of the city with other queers of colour and parents and knowing who is close by through friends of friends would be great to try and build this in more local and accessible ways.

Akio: I like to keep my circle small and tight cause I’ve seen how folks treat their own and I’m not trying to have my private business out there for the local queer 6 o’clock news. So often I go it alone and for the most part I’m okay with that. Hired help when it can be afforded works for me.

LeRoi: Yeah, I love that. There’s a queer Black BBQ during Pride that is pretty dope like that…there’s also Queer Black FAM JAM that has lots of kids roll up usually.

S: What do you find are common problems with things like child care at events?

QueenTite: Problems with child care – not enough variety in the space for the age ranges – emphasis on the very young – older kids get slightly less attention. No, disability based thought put into spaces to accommodate a variety of abilities/disabilities.

Akio: They are subpar, not age appropriate and often boring.

LeRoi: Sometimes I have found that there aren’t enough people working in the childcare room and the childcare room is kind of just like mayhem. People need to realize that for babies/young toddlers the ratio should be 1 adult to two babies. The other thing is I feel like there isn’t respect for childcare being a position that requires a lot of skill and experience. Sometimes the people doing childcare aren’t trained properly and they’re just like “winging it”. Like my ex put her son in childcare at this event once and the person doing childcare let him tape his mouth shut with duct tape

Akio: Duct tape!!!

LeRoi: hahahahaha

Akio: See I’d need bail money. But I digress…

Amandeep: omg yes LeRroi.. haha..

LeRoi: I think this points towards….for those of us who are Black …sometimes when childcare is offered by white people there is a bit of a cultural disjunct. Like, I don’t want my child running up and down, doing any and everything.

S: What do you think people need to address in order make community space accessible to parents and children? How do we build intergenerational spaces?

QueenTite: More family based activities – co planning with the expectations of including youths. Create the activities we aim to see. Ensure that we see family based activities for all. This convo and thinking proactively is apart of it. Create solutions to the problems. Remove obstacles. Break the cliques apart…collaborate and connect – get kids together at BBQ family based days etc..

Akio: Advance planning, Invest in resources (money, activities etc), engage parents, age-appropriate child care.

LeRoi: What we need more of I think is an effort to make events accessible…we need people (not just parents) to clap back when you see events posted that don’t offer any childcare. We need people to value us…so for example if you are doing community organizing and you are used to calling your meetings with no notice, during the evening you are not gonna get parents out…especially single parents. Daytime parties. People who are not parents being like…okay let’s tag-team. I’ll go to that event for the first two hours and then I’ll watch your kid so you can go.

Akio: We can’t even…Folks barely recognize intergenerational folks much less. The thought or actions to make spaces. We gotta break it all down and build up from scratch with accountability and transparency.

LeRoi: That can be true so much of the time. I have seen some really dope things in practice though. Like I saw this daycare one time that was housed in an an elderly care facility which was really, really cool. And the kids got to interact with elders all the time at “school”. I would be really interest in working on a project like that/creating a space like that.

Akio: If I had a dollar for eeverytime I took my time and energy to help start something only to have the jancrow them fly over and either shit on it or take it as their own but LeRoi that would be amazing. Depending on the space. Old people can be unapologetically racist. Speaking as a nurse.

LeRoi: I would be envisioning something specifically for Black community. I feel like BIPOC in Canada have a lot issues finding appropriate care for our elders and appropriate education for our youths. Both need dignity and programming that is Black centered. Also we need more things like the Radical Monarchs, BlackLivesMatter Freedom School…programs for kids to be engage in what we are building in our communities

Akio: Toronto Child Care collective here in Toronto But it didn’t have the right clique to gain momentum But the more we create spaces for us by us the better we will be.

LeRoi: Childcare collectives are really dope though. I remember there was one in Montréal that offered free childcare for families without status and for events and ting. Also, they would do a March Break camp that was really cool where kids would learn to DJ and stuff.


LeRoi Newbold
Leroi Newbold is an artist, community organizer and an educator at Canada’s first public Africentric school.

QueenTite
I’m a winnipeg born, west coast grown, toronto based multidisciplinary artist. I AM; a black, proud, queer, Hybrid. My roots are laid in art, activism, education, black liberation, poetry, love, and in constant pursuit of more love. When I’m not busy changing the world, you can find me devoted to my personal projects which include; Co – Founding Prosthetics For Foreign Donation & owning Black Heir.

Instagram and Snapchat: @missqueentite

Akio
Akio is a Single mom, Human Rights activist, Educator and Community Organizer.

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.

Creating the Content We Want to See

the young writers of black girls magazine posing together and holding their black girl magazine

An Interview with Black Girls Magazine founder Annette Bazira-Okafor

By: Savannah Clarke

When I was around 10 years-old I used to collect magazines for fun. I loved the posters, quizzes, horoscopes and all the gossip. I use to love getting the free magazines from friends and different offices. The only thing was the majority of these magazines didn’t have many black folks in it. Aside from the obvious teen hip hop magazine like Word Up! The rest of the magazines I collected were just white.I would get annoyed but had to overlook this very large detail because “that’s how it was”. Even though I enjoyed collecting and later collaging because it was meditative, I had little images or stories that I could relate to. Many black teens have felt this frustration with not seeing themselves or hearing their stories in media especially in magazines, something that use to be synonymous with teenhood. While most of us accept this as fact and relish in the moments we do see ourselves, others create those moments for themselves. Founders and contributors of Black Girls Magazines is a perfect example.

BGM was created by a group of black middle school students within the GTA as a response to not seeing themselves in the magazines and apps that they used. BGM is a magazine that offers unique perspectives written by black girls for all girls. It aims to reflect the images, interests, and stories of black girls. I contacted Annette Bazira-Okafor founder and mother of one of the young contributors to learn more about BGM and how these young girls are creating the content they want to see.

Savannah Taylor: Can you let us know who you are and explain to us more about the Black Girls Magazine?

Annette: My name is Annette Bazira-Okafor. I am a doctoral student at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), University of Toronto. I am also the founder and editor of Black Girls Magazine.

Savannah Taylor: What was the moment that brought you to want to create Black Girls Magazine?

Annette: Part of my research at OISE has been on African youth and popular culture. I came across the work of Dr. Craig Watkins, and in his book he speaks about the fact the black girls are the most underserved and undiscernible demographic in popular culture. As a mother as well, I have always observed the lack of black representation in the online makeup and dressup apps that my daughter and her friends love.Creating Black Girls Magazine was a way for me to get them to create representations of themselves and write about their own interests and experiences as black girls.

Savannah Taylor: I know that the girls write the material in the magazine, what are some of those topics?

Annette: Some of the topics are stories about their hair like ‘weird things people ask about my hair’; movie reviews in our section called ‘Hollywood scoop’; recipes; sports, particularly basketball by one of the girls who is a basketball player; the girls’ travel experiences to different countries; and our last issue included a christmas section and a section on “people in black history” in anticipation of Black History month. We publish twice a year so we try to include diverse topics that cover both current and upcoming events, seasons or holidays.

Savannah Taylor: When I was younger I use to love collecting magazines, having access to this magazine would have been very refreshing for me to say the least, how do you feel like this magazine could be medicine or healing for other black girls to read?

Annette: I feel very grateful and overwhelmed that it turned out this way, because when I first started, I was simply doing this with a small group of girls, unaware of the interest that it would garner, not only in the black community but in mainstream media as well. I am so grateful that I have been a part of creating a platform for other black girls as well. In the magazine we request black girls to send us their stories, artwork or anything else they would love to see in the magazine, so we can have more diverse voices from black girls represented.

Savannah Taylor: So often marginalized youth don’t see themselves in magazines, tv shows, books, etc. how can teachers and youth workers play a role in supporting youth to create and access media that speaks to their experiences? Why do you think that is important?

Annette: Often books that represent black people and their cultures are very few or rare in schools, and often they are limited to non-fiction or slavery, basically history or social studies, and may be used only during black history month. I think teachers should include such cultural books as a daily part of student learning. Teachers should put in extra effort into making story books, magazines, and and many more reading resources that represent black people and culture a part of school curricula. Young children in schools regardless of race should have access to more picture books that represent black people and culture. Positive images and representations of black people should be normalized in mainstream institutions so as to dispose of stereotypes often perpetuated in media and schools. Youth workers and teachers create lasting impressions on the minds of black youth. Validating black youth by normalizing their cultures and representations go a long way into giving them confidence and guiding their journey to success.

Savannah Taylor: How has the journey of creating Black Girls Magazine changed yours or the girls perspective on what representation can look like?

Annette: Being able to create representations of themselves and write stories embedded in their cultures and experiences, I feel has given the girl’s confidence to speak about their stories and to boldly represent themselves through images that are normally invisible in popular culture.

Savannah: Do you or the girls have any big ideas for the future of Black Girls Magazine?

Annette: We hope to build the readership of the magazine and invite more black girls to contribute to it. We also hope to attract corporate sponsors who can help us move the project forward. I finance the project out of pocket, and foot the all printing costs and other costs associated with the magazine. Hopefully with sponsors, we can start publishing quarterly rather than twice a year.

Savannah Taylor: Where can people go to learn more and possibly get their own copy of Black Girl Magazine?

Annette: People can buy copies and subscribe by going to our website www.blackgirlsmagazine.ca


Annette Bazira-Okafor
Annette Bazira-Okafor is a PhD candidate at OISE, University of Toronto, department of Social Justice Education.  She is the founder and Editor of Black Girls Magazi

Savannah Clarke
Savannah Clarke is a young performing artist. She has recently graduated with her undergraduate and  is an alumni of the Watah Theatre. She is now currently growing her art form. Her art has always been attached to her identity as a black queer woman and she strongly believes that storytelling is essential for the movement of black liberation.  While she continues to unearth what her artistry can look like, she stays committed to connecting and understanding the integrity of its roots.