February 21, 2022

These Edmonton students are educating their peers about Black issues | CBC News

At one Edmonton high school, students are taking the lead and educating their peers about Black history and issues that matter to their community, with topics ranging from micro-aggression to mental health to success stories.

Strathcona High School’s Black Students Alliance launched last year. 

“Growing up, my father, he’s a Black man, and how I saw the struggles that he went through in society and life,” said Kaitlin Tetteh-Wayoe, who is a Grade 11 student.

“I thought I could be part of the change and work toward a greater cause.”

For Black History Month, the students decorated the halls with posters reading “My voice will be heard” and “Our collective power is immeasurable.” They are also planning guest speakers, virtual activities and slide shows about politics, music and athletics within the Black community.

As a group, the students brainstorm, research and create a variety of content throughout the school year.

Students in the alliance also produce episodes for a podcast called BSA Today. (Brody Kalwajtys)

Since its inception, the students themselves have organized a number of initiatives, ranging from livestreamed conversations with Black community leaders to movie nights where Black issues are discussed to podcasts that cover a range of topics, including mental health stigma in the Black community.

“I think it’s definitely a lot more genuine because it’s like questions that we want to hear and the answers that we want to hear in a really digestible format,” Tetteh-Wayoe said, referring to how the students share content on social media, such as Instagram.

Teacher supervisors Brody Kalwajtys, far left, and Michael Andoh, second from left, walk with BSA members Toni Gordon, second from right, and Kaitlin Tetteh-Wayoe outside Strathcona High School. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The group’s teacher supervisors let the students take the reins. They guide them along the way and see the students growing through the process.

“It’s always exciting to see how they learn to navigate how to send an email or how to reach out and build a connection with someone in the community or how to organize events,” said teacher supervisor Brody Kalwajtys.

“I think that they’re developing a lot of confidence, a lot of leadership skills.”

Overcoming obstacles

But there has been resistance to the group.

After the Black Student Alliance formed last year, a counter group called the Scona White Student Alliance briefly sprang up in opposition. In social media posts, that group encouraged local students to fight “Black supremacy” and called on students to “rise up” and fight “racism against white people.”  

The counter group was condemned by the Edmonton Public School Board as well as students in the school. A Twitter account by the same name was also suspended.

Students from Strathcona High School gather for a meeting of the Black Students Alliance, which initially encountered pushback from some students. (Brody Kalwajtys)

“The pushback really just helped the group realize that we needed to get our message across,” said Grade 12 student Toni Gordon, a founding member of the Black Students Alliance. 

Michael Andoh, another teacher supervisor and the only Black teacher at the high school, said the school community rallied behind the Black Students Alliance as a result of the pushback.

WATCH | Edmonton high school students educate peers about Black issues

Teen-led Black Students Alliance aims to improve awareness, conversations

Two years after the Black Students Alliance formed at Edmonton’s Strathcona High School, the 30 members of the student-led group remain committed to learning about Black history and culture while educating others about issues Black people face on a daily basis. 1:59

“I think that the group has gotten even stronger. It’s quite evident that that adversity actually binds and strengthens the group and not only people of colour — we found that allies really bonded together,” he said.

Membership of the group has grown from a handful last year to 30 this year.

Kalwajtys further said the dynamic at the Edmonton high school has changed because of the students’ efforts.

“I think it’s opened up a lot of conversations within the school community — conversations within students, conversations with the staff. And it’s brought a lot more awareness toward issues within issues that the Black community and racialized community faces,” he said.


(CBC)

Check out CBC’s Being Black in Canada. It focuses on the diverse stories and experiences of Black Canadians and a breadth of content including news, documentaries, arts and other programming.

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