A group of students at Frank Hurt Secondary is working to better educate their classmates and school community about Black History Month – and beyond.
February is Black History Month in Canada and the U.S. In Canada, the 2022 theme for Black History Month is “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History Today and Every Day.”
And students at Frank Hurt have been working to do that for the past several years.
Melanie Scheuer, the teacher sponsor for the Beyond Black History Month Committee, said the group has existed in some form or another since she came to the school about 11 years ago.
She said the Beyond Black History Month Committee was “always a sort of sub-committee of other groups,” such as the Global Issues Club, but students “wanted to continue that conversation and raising of awareness and celebration throughout the year.”
The committee consists of students in grades 8 through 12. Sirat Gill, a Grade 12 student, said while February is deemed Black History Month, that “activism for the Black community should go all year round.”
She said there’s “a lot of performative activism happening” by big brands and companies putting out special products and lines during Black History Month.
“Why isn’t this all year round?”
Gill said that while there has been a positive response and interest in the committee and the work the students are doing, “people think it’s just boring history even though history is very key to how we live now.”
“To look at Black history, you have to go out of your own way to look for resources and look at materials that highlight different people of colour all around Canada and even the world.”
During the pandemic, Scheuer said the students have done their best to share information among themselves and with the school community, and built a social media presence for the committee.
“The fact that we have a social media presence on Instagram, I think that has made a difference because I do know that some of the followers are not just Frank Hurt students,” explained Scheuer, who is also one of the co-creators of the district’s upcoming Black Studies 12 course.
“What is posted on social media, we share with all the educators in the school so they can come up with their own ways of amplifying or learning about these people.”
While teachers are responding positively, Gelila Zeudu, a Grade 12 student, said some students still aren’t aware of the committee.
“One day we were just putting up posters at lunch and someone asked what is this for, why are you doing this? Not in a negative way, but just out of not knowing,” said Zeudu, who has been a part of the committee since Grade 11.
“I think there is some work that we can do, just being able to share this with the entire school more and having more reach to different people at our school.”
Scheuer said the students have been trying to plan monthly conversations in collaboration with the school’s Anti-Oppression Collective, specifically in regards to racism and use of racist language and terms at the school-level.
She noted the “various words that are used prolifically in music,” that seems to somehow have become normalized by members of different communities.
Scheuer said the students were “disturbed by the amount of racism at the school and what they were witnessing in regards to language, in regards to using various slurs, and just ‘joking around.’”
Eknoor Khela said “there’s a lack of acknowledgement and education, which is why it’s so common.
“It’s heartbreaking that it’s so common but I think people don’t realize that a lot of the things that they indulge in come from Black history, which is why they think it’s OK to disrespect Black history.”
Scheuer said the committee is hoping to hold one of those conversations later this school year as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease and the weather warms up.
For now, though, the committee is working to fundraise for a Black-owned business or foundation while also still educating people through its Instagram at frankhurt_bhm, which also provides links to articles celebrating Black history, organizations and other local businesses.
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