BY: KATHY MCDONALD
Marcus Garvey in his wisdom once said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”. As I visit the schools in my ward I am amazed by the evidence of students’ learning that fills the walls. I invariably see confirmation of the fact that black history is being celebrated. When I speak with the students as I walk around the schools they can name the usual “suspects” Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Barack Obama. Rest assured that I am not minimizing the efforts of these great individuals but there is so much more to black history than a handful of well renowned black men and women. Black history does not begin with slavery and end with the United States of America Civil Rights Movement.
Quite often black people in history are presented as helpless slaves, sad victims that
had to endure. The narrative of a resilient and strong people is often overlooked. The entire black community is represented as one homogenous group. Surprise! There are many cultures, heritages and religious beliefs within the black community. Even the word black as used to define an entire group of people is problematic for some.
I serendipitously came across a collection of flashcards produced by a company called
Urban Intellectuals. On the exterior of the package, the company states that they seek to “combat the miseducation and suppression of Black Achievement around the globe”. I highly recommend you head down to your local bookstore that specializes in black and Caribbean stories. for example, Knowledge Bookstore in Brampton or A Different Booklist in Toronto, to pick up a set. The flashcards are worth the investment.
Did you know that alchemy was first practiced in early Egypt? What about the
Pythagorean theorem debate. Did the ancient Greek mathematician really discover the
relationship between the three sides of a right angle triangle? Many would argue that
Babylonian scholars understood the formula hundreds of years before Pythagoras. There is also credible evidence that Indian and Chinese mathematicians documented this mathematical relationship long before Pythagoras. Remember an African proverb that says ”Until the lions have their own historians. the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
As a young student in Jamaica, I can vividly remember reciting ”Christopher Columbus
discovered Jamaica in 1942”. Now, when one just thinks logically about this statement, its inaccuracy is crystal clear. How could a man discover an island that has been inhabited by people for hundreds of years? If one stops to think more deeply it is highly unlikely that an Italian explorer would travel over 8,637 km to Jamaica and be the first person to set foot on the land when in fact just 1,540 km separates Colombia from Jamaica and Guyana is only 2,481 km away. These two countries located in the north of the South American Continent along with many Eastern countries of Central America (Nicaragua, for example, is only 1,028 km away from Jamaica) had indigenous peoples and thriving civilizations. So, quite simply Europeans did not discover the Caribbean.
Students are often shocked to learn about thriving black economies that predate slavery and the birth of Christ. It is priceless to see student reactions when they first hear about Black Wall Street. It is mind-boggling to think that from 1906 to 1921 there was a small suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma named Greenwood that was home to one of the most successful black economies of America. What is even more riveting is the history of the demise of such a thriving economy.
Whether it’s the Haitian, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, that founded a settlement that
later became known as Chicago or the African-Brazilian slave and martyred Saint of Rio de Janeiro, there are hundreds of black stories that need to be told and retold. There are several great Canadians that have done noteworthy feats. These stories need to be told from Mathieu Da Costa, Viola Desmond, Lincoln Alexander to Jean Augustine. Little Canadians black boys and little black girls need to know that they are not merely descendants of slaves, refugees or illiterate immigrants. It is important for them to learn about all the marvelous contributions of black, African and Caribbean peoples to Canada and the world. The stories of the resilience of the slave, refugee and the immigrant need to be forever embedded into the curriculum of each school board of each province and territory, so our children and all children will be aware of the significant contributions that black, African and Caribbean people have made and continue to make to our home and native land. The words of Nelson Mandela “ Education is the most powerful weapon that we can use to change the world” will always resonate with me as students that are educated and have a sound knowledge of their history are better equipped to be successful adults. So, journey with me as we at the Peel District School Board embed black, African and Caribbean narratives into modern learning and beyond. Walk Good! Belle Marché!