UGDSB recognizes Black heritage, brilliance, joy

WELLINGTON COUNTY  – In February, the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) honours Black Heritage, Black Brilliance and Black Joy Month. 

The name came from students in 2021, UGDSB spokesperson Heather Loney told the Advertiser. 

“This name not only commemorates the struggles and triumphs of the Black community but also highlights the brilliance and joy that permeates through the rich heritage,” said chair Ralf Mesenbrink during an UGDSB meeting on Jan. 30.

It represents “a balanced approach to understanding that the history, reality and future of people of the African diaspora involves immense racism and injustice including slavery as well as excellence, joy, social justice action, positive contribution and pre-slavery history,” UGDSB officials state in an email to the Advertiser.

The theme of the month this year is “Enough Misconceptions … Allow Us To Re-Introduce Ourselves.”

The board has organized guest speakers and the equity team will share “critical considerations with staff and robust resources,” officials state.

Black heritage

Mesenbrink said Black heritage is honoured by recognizing the “resilience and strength displayed by the Black community in overcoming historical challenges” and emphasizing “the importance of creating an educational environment that is not only aware of the struggles faced but also appreciates the profound impact of Black culture worldwide.” 

Black brilliance

To recognize Black brilliance, the UGDSB celebrates “the intellectual achievements, creativity and innovation that have shaped our collective humanity,” Mesenbrink said. 

“By fostering an environment that celebrates diversity in thought and perspective we enrich the educational experience for all students and nurture an atmosphere that values the unique contributions that each individual brings to the table.”

Director of education Peter Sovran said, “By acknowledging the remarkable contributions of Black individuals throughout history, and fostering an inclusive atmosphere, we lay the foundation for an educational landscape where high expectations are universal.” 

Black joy

Mesenbrink said “the joy that stems from cultural pride, shared traditions and a sense of belonging is essential for the well being of our students. 

“By fostering an environment where Black students can celebrate their identity with pride, we contribute to a school community that is not only academically enriched but also emotionally supportive.”

Tracy Cain

Guest speakers including Tracy Cain will visit UGDSB schools throughout February. 

Cain is a fifth generation Black Canadian. On her website Cain states “uncovering this rich Canadian history is my passion. 

“My presentation celebrates my ancestors’ stories on coming to Canada, by way of the Underground Railroad,” she continues. 

The presentation content goes back 200 years and includes details of Cain’s ancestors’ journey, secret codes and songs.

She will teach students “about Black Canadian pioneers’ resilience and tenacity to seek out freedom plus the sacrifices and contributions they made to help develop communities throughout Ontario.”

G.E.T. Outreachworks

UGDSB programming also includes visits from G.E.T Outreachworks, a non-profit  organization based in Shelburne that provides educational awareness during Black History Month.

G.E.T. Outreachworks will lead “Hidden Histories” presentations, with themes such as celebrating African culture and dance, Black excellence in STEM, diverse culinary heritages, Black community, and contributions made in the Canadian military. 

‘Transformative force’

During the Jan. 30 meeting Sovran discussed the importance of viewing “education as a transformative force that not only imparts knowledge but also empowers Black students to thrive authentically.

“Our commitment to human rights and inclusivity is non negotiable,” he said. 

“Lets collectively embrace the richness of Black heritage, celebrate the brilliance within each student, and cultivate an environment where Black joy is an inherent part of the educational journey.”