History Month is a tradition. Black History Month grew out of Negro History Week. It was founded in 1926 by African American historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who dedicated his career to the study and documentation of Black life. It was a scholarly and educational intervention to counter the racist representation and erasure of African Americans in American history that contributed to their disenfranchisement and The Miseducation of Black people about their past through the white gaze.
In the 1950s, after commencing community observances, the Canadian Negro Women’s Association introduced the celebration of Black History Month to Toronto. The Ontario Black History Society petitioned the city of Toronto to officially recognize Black History Month in 1979 and in 1993 successfully pushed for the Ontario government to adopt it. In 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month, following a motion introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine. Black History Month was officially observed across Canada for the first time in February 1996. 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the official national observation of Black History Month in Canada.
Canadian schools have increasingly organized and participated in BHM activities. It is important to take the time to recognize the contributions and achievements of Black Canadians in all facets of Canadian society, both in the past and in the present. It is equally important to present a balanced view of Black Canadian experiences in acknowledging the struggles that Black people in Canada have faced and continue to face and to highlight the longstanding history of Black activism that has contributed to addressing systemic discrimination in Canada. Educators have an obligation to provide meaningful learning opportunities relating to Black Canadian experiences that fosters the development of the critical socio-political consciousness in students in ways that make connections between the past and today. In 2020 Black peoples participated in and witnessed global social uprisings against widespread anti-Black racism that too often leads to the violent end of Black life and has created conditions that have negatively impacted Black life writ large. Experiencing this widespread protest in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black Canadians in the GTA and North America, underscores the urgency of marking BHM this year. It provides a learning space to discuss current realities, honour Black and African histories, heritages, and cultures, celebrate Black joy, and envision transformative Black futures. Acknowledging Black History Month in the way it was intended is antiracist pedagogy.
The intentional use of stories and images of Black life to challenge dominant Euro-Canadian historical national narratives, normalized white identities, white supremacist power structures, and anti-Black sentiments can positively affirm the identities of Black students. These stories and images, called counternarratives and counterimages, are core principles of critical race theory and antiracist pedagogy. Rosalind Hampton notes that “Black counter-storytelling has been an astute political project grounded in a demand for self- representation and the assertion of counter- discourses, challenging not only racist representations of Black people but the very “rationality of rational man.”1 effectively integrated Black counternarratives represent Black people as historical actors with agency and provide perspectives on how Black people have and continue to live, survive, and resist. They give attention to stories of Black achievement and Black excellence and uplift narratives of Black people as innovators, scientists, thinkers, creatives, mathematicians, doctors, and survivors.
Here in Ontario and in most provinces in Canada, BHM also serves as a curriculum intervention to help address the fact that there are no mandated learning expectations on the 400-year Black presence in Canada that students have to learn. This systemic negation of Black history by the state is a clear instance of anti-Black racism. How are school boards who made statements last spring in support of BLM taking up BHM and more specifically the teaching of Black experiences throughout the year in all subject areas? How are they resourcing and supporting this work? The power of Black stories benefits all students and can be integrated and shared in all grades. Dr. Woodson intended that BHM would be a time when people would share what they learned throughout the other eleven months, not cram Black history into the month of February. BHM remains a necessary educational space that should be drawn upon in tandem with instituting permanent, sustainable curriculum change that brings Black history into classrooms year-round. In the spirit of Sankofa, it provides an opportunity to look back at our rich past, to use our history to guide our present and to shape Black futures. Ancestor Dr. John Henrik Clarke reminds us, “history is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.” Here are some topic examples: Black history social studies topics for grades 1–6