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DSBN students share voices on Black History Month: 'Black history is art, it's culture'

by Unknown | Feb 16, 2024

Fort Erie teens came up with the idea to deliver a Black History Month kit to all secondary schools that includes a banner, balloons, posters and flags

By Victoria Nicolaou Reporter

Thursday, February 15, 2024

3 min to read

Article was updated 14 hrs ago

Black History Month Fort Erie high school students

Khalaila Watt, from left, Audrey Akharoh, Korede Adesina, Anais Baxter, Taiya Farrugia and Angel Boswell-Blackwood of Greater Fort Erie Secondary School have put together a kit for Black History Month for other schools.

Julie Jocsak St. Catharines Standard


Black History Month has been part of their school experience from a young age, but that did not always mean the words were being respected.

There were times even students themselves forgot February was meant to recognize and celebrate Black excellence. But this year everything has changed. As they walk through hallways, there are flags, banners and balloons hung up inside the school. Morning announcements include Black history, music plays from speakers and the cafeteria hosts culinary events.

At Greater Fort Erie Secondary School, one English class focused on a Black doctor, while another is doing Black history math equations.

“This Black History Month really challenged the schools and the teachers just to celebrate Black excellence throughout the whole month, and not just one day,” said Taiya Farrugia, a Grade 11 student.

“Last year, I feel like most of my classes I didn’t really do anything but … I feel like a lot of teachers are coming together and adding Black history into the curriculum, so that’s really exciting.”

For the first time, it feels like the words and actions are matching.

“It is not looking down on — last year, we hung posters and they got ripped down and stomped,” said Anais Baxter.

Her classmate Angel Boswell-Blackwood agreed students are being respectful, even hearing how much they are “appreciating" seeing Black excellence highlighted.

Those changes aren’t in Fort Erie alone, but across District School Board of Niagara schools.

Student achievement leader for equity, inclusion and anti-racism Pratima Burton said it began through conversations with students about their school experiences, led by a new Black youth engagement coach and Future Black Female.

One of the common themes they heard pertained to Black History Month, with not all schools celebrating February in meaningful ways.

The students from GFESS came up with an idea to create and deliver a Black History Month kit to all secondary schools. The group members worked together — bringing their different perspectives and experiences — brainstorming ideas for the kit that ended up including a banner, balloons, posters and flags all to be displayed in a prominent location.

Each kit also included a QR code that took educators and students to a list that had morning announcement information, music playlists, book choices and Black history videos.

“We really wanted to emphasize that this was just a starting point and that displaying these items would be the very least that should happen in schools to acknowledge and to celebrate and to highlight Black excellence,” said Burton.

But it was one thing for the senior team to suggest what schools should do, “it means so much more when it comes from the student voice.” DSBN invited GFESS students to attend an online learning session to discuss Black History Month, as well as to appear before the equity, inclusion, anti-racism community advisory committee.

They answered questions about why Black History Month is important, why Black excellence, achievement and joy needs to be celebrated and the importance of affirming Black identities through the school year.

For all GFESS students, they spoke about wanting to see a move away from slavery. They wanted the student body to understand enslavement does not define them, rather February should be about highlighting and celebrating Black achievements.

Grade 11 student Audrey Akharoh said representation matters, helping minority students feel a “sense of empowerment.”

All students should have the opportunity to acknowledge the richness and resiliency of Black history, which she said also encourages a respectful and inclusive learning atmosphere.

“It sends a clear message that everyone’s achievements are valued, contributing to more fair and education community,” said Akharoh. “Black history is art, it’s culture, within it lies resilience.”

Baxter added that when she began high school, most of her Black knowledge came from home but this month allows her to celebrate and reflect upon the heritage, customs, accomplishments and truthful history of Black individuals.

Boswell-Blackwood came from Peel District School Board. Its schools celebrated everyone’s culture and background. For her, February is about recognizing Black excellence is “very wide and it’s so deep.”

“I need to learn about myself and I need to learn about how I am able to push through and carry that strength from my ancestors into my everyday life and every step that I take,” said the Grade 11 student.

After working as a small group at GFESS to increase equity and inclusivity, having someone like Burton on the senior team want to partner and ask them questions was crucial.

Being able to speak up and share their voices with educators made GFESS students hopeful for the future and while it was nerve-wracking, it helped knowing the people were there to listen.

“Seeing this change, where they actually want to hear our voices and understand where we’re coming from and trying to incorporate our perspectives, definitely really makes me super excited,” said Boswell-Blackwood.

Burton said one group of students made an impact on the public school board. Principals are sending photos of students setting up their Black History Month kits, and the hope is it will continue to grow.

Said Baxter, “When we leave high school, we don’t want it to go back to the way it was. We started it and now its up to them.”


VN Victoria Nicolaou is a reporter with the St. Catharines Standard.

Original Article