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Black Student Unions in Surrey high schools offering connection, belonging

Black students make up small minority in most Surrey schools
Kellie Kahikumumu (left) and Kayon Davin are Grade 12 students at L.A. Matheson, who are also part of the school’s Black Student Union. Nearing graduation, the two want to leave a mark for the younger students to continue long past their departure from the school. (Contributed photo)

Growing up in Jamaica, Kayon Davis never thought twice about fitting in. It wasn’t until she came to Canada and made a home in Surrey that she realized how important having a community was — when it was no longer as easy to come by.

“It was definitely a culture shock, because growing up where I’m surrounded by my people to coming here where it’s very limited… it was weird,” she told Peace Arch News.

Davis’s experience of feeling isolated at times is common amongst other Black students in Surrey’s schools.

“I would be the only Black girl in a class. Then having the BSU (Black Student Union), it would just be the thing that I could come to and talk to people that are like me,” Davis explained.

A student at L.A. Matheson Secondary, Davis and others are trying to build up their BSU by encouraging more people to join.

“At first, I felt there weren’t that many Black students until I started in the BSU and people started coming. I did realize that we do have a lot of Black people in our school, they just are not connecting,” another Grade 12 student, Kellie Kahikumumu said.

“That’s why the BSU is a way for us to connect and start talking and be around each other. That’s when I realized there’s actually a lot of people in our school who look like me. We just didn’t see each other that much, everyone was hidden in a way.”

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While the group has about 15 regular members, the total number of Black students at the school is closer to 30, Kahikumumu estimates.

Originally from Toronto, Ont. Kahikumumu says that the difference between living in Toronto to now in Surrey can definitely be felt, even though Metro Vancouver’s Black population is increasing. Being one of very few Black Students at school is becoming easier to navigate, she said.

“Now in the hallways, I see more Black people and even if we’re not in the same class, just seeing them in the hallway makes you feel less alone.”

Black History Month display at L.A. Matheson Secondary. (Contributed photo)

Working with the younger students is crucial for the two seniors. For Kahikumumu, she did not join the BSU until Grade 10 even though she’s been a student at the school since Grade 8. Reaching those younger students early in their time in high school is something the group is trying to improve.

“I know that for somebody who’s just coming (to the school) like in Grade 8, they would want that support and community. As older people, whether it’s racism or whatever they’re going through, we can talk to them. We’ve experienced it, we can give them advice and it’s just really nice to build those relationships with people and we can make jokes too without it being weird,” Davis said.

“(Racism is) something that’s not talked about… I wouldn’t say they’re scared but hesitant to share their experience with those type of things. Maybe they feel judged, so that’s why it’s also important to have the BSU where they can have that (space) where they can come and express that.”

Navigating specific instances of anti-Blackness in school or in the community is something the students say is not often discussed in classrooms. Gaining knowledge on how to better their experience and stand up for themselves during such incidents is something they are just beginning to build up by speaking about it with each other.

The two nearing graduation, setting the younger students up to continue on the legacy of the Black Student Union is one of the main goals for Kahikumumu and Davis.

Five other high schools in Surrey have Black Student Unions: Queen Elizabeth, Fraser Heights, North Surrey, Sullivan Heights and Guildford Park Secondaries.

Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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