Education should reflect Canada’s diversity

The Toronto Sun Thursday, February 7, 2008 : Editorial/Opinion  BY SID RYAN

Most of us will never have heard of Rose Fortune or David George. They were among the first Black Loyalists to arrive in Nova Scotia following the U.S. War of Independence, which had given them the opportunity to escape slavery.
In 1775, Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, was in desperate need of fresh troops to defend the British colony.
Dunmore offered freedom to any slave who would successfully flee rebel captivity and fight for the British. Within a month, Dunmore's troops grew from 300 to 800. His proclamation was the first mass emancipation of slaves in American history. By war's end, 30,000 black slaves had joined the British army. Following the loss of the war, 3,000 Black Loyalists, as they became known, were evacuated to Nova Scotia to escape re-capture by American forces and slave masters.

Rose Fortune went on to build a business carrying luggage and baggage from the boats on the Annapolis wharf to homes and hotels in the community. David George was born a slave in Virginia. Following his service in the British Army, he made his way to Halifax and then Birchtown, where he continued his work as a preacher in the community that was, at its peak, the largest gathering of free blacks anywhere in the world outside of Africa.
Eventually, more than half of the 3,000 Black Loyalists left Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone because of racism and horrific acts of discrimination against the black community.

This is just one small sliver of black history in Canada. It is important for young students from all backgrounds to know and understand the contributions made to our country by brave souls such as the Black Loyalists. It is particularly important that black students know blacks played an important role in developing the Canada we know today.
Listening to the dominant political discourse in our country, one is left with the impression that the only history that matters is that of the French and English. How insulting it must be for aboriginal people to hear the English and French described in history books as the two founding nations. Likewise, the history and rich contribution of blacks is rarely mentioned in our schools except during Black History Month.

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I wonder what Rose Fortune or David George would think today if we told them 40% of black teens drop out of high school every year in Toronto. What would they say about us as a community where parents, politicians and pundits cannot agree on what must be done to reverse this shameful trend? Surely, if Rose Fortune could live through the horrors of southern slavery and make her way to Canadian shores and a new life, then the least we can do is to provide her descendants with an education that includes her story and others like it.

And, if that means setting up a black-focused school so black kids can learn about real heroes and role models then so be it. It is time for us all to step back and take a deep breath; Toronto and Canada are rapidly changing. Toronto is no longer a Eurocentric city. The curriculum in our schools should reflect this reality.

We also need leadership, vision and strategic thinking from the premier of Ontario and not his knee jerk and inflammatory language that only serves to inflame passions around this issue. Dalton McGuinty needs to be making the connections between his "war on poverty" and race, where this problem has its roots.

Last year, the Colour of Justice Network launched their province-wide, community-based campaign on the Colour of Poverty. Their report draws direct links between race and poverty. While there is a growing gap between rich and poor in Ontario, racialized communities experience a disproportionate share of poverty. According to professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi of Ryerson University, "In Toronto, they are three times more likely to be poor because of the challenges and barriers they face in the job market."

Black-focused schools are a desperate cry for help from committed parents in the black community. Surely to God, we can open our minds enough to hear those cries.