A few Surrey schools will be taking part in the inaugural Black Shirt Day tomorrow (Jan. 15).
The Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver started the petition two months ago to designate Jan. 15 Black Shirt Day. Since then, it has received more than 8,500 signatures, with a goal of 10,000.
Kamika Williams, the chairperson of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver, said the support so far for the petition and Black Shirt Day has been “amazing.” She added she’s aware of people participating as far away as Alberta, Saskatchewan, and even Germany.
“We always believed it would be a good idea, but we weren’t sure how it would be received and we’re very glad to see the response. It’s very positive.”
The petition on change.org states in B.C. “thousands of students wear pink shirts in support of anti-bullying. Orange Shirt Day has also been introduced across Canadian schools, where students wear orange shirts in solidarity with Indigenous victims of the residential school system.”
The coalition is petitioning for Black Shirt Day to be introduced in B.C. in “recognition of the struggle for civil rights fought by Black and racialized Canadians.”
The deadline to hopefully be recognized with an official proclamation was Dec. 4, but Williams said the organization “just didn’t have the time. However, she said it “worked out better” this way.
“We wanted to have the support before we went to (Education Minister) Jennifer Whiteside,” said Williams, adding that being able to show how many people “want this” is helpful.
“So there’s really no point in her not approving it, as opposed to just going with some petition and saying, ‘Hey, we’re a bunch of individuals who think this is a good idea.’ We’ve proven it’s a good idea.”
Williams said the coalition is an organization that “believes in education.”
“We understand that to help people be anti-racist, there’s certain behaviours that they have to learn at a young age,” she noted.
“Just going back to Pink Shirt Day, and specifically Orange Shirt Day, what that has done to spread awareness on such a very sensitive topic. Having a t-shirt just opens the door to spread awareness and opens the door for parents and teachers to have this difficult conversation with children, just focused around a shirt.”
Black Shirt Day would fall on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and Williams said the coalition thought it would be a good way to start the conversation of anti-Black racism and continue that education into Black History Month in February.
She noted the hope for the future is a more “robust, mandatory curriculum, hopefully around Black History Month.”
At L.A. Matheson Secondary, teacher Annie Ohana said ”most, if not all teachers” will take part in Black Shirt Day on Friday, adding she hopes at least 600 to 700 students take part.
“I do think days like this give teachers – students – a chance to kind of have an easier way to have that dialogue where maybe we take a breather to focus on specifically that one issue,” she explained.
“Our students, our staff need to realize that we need to celebrate Blackness, we need to celebrate students and everybody having a safe and peaceful existence.”
Ohana said anti-Blackness is “something we should all discuss.”
“We need to realize that even though my school is majorly BIPOC, but even if you belong to a marginalized group or a visible minority, we all have prejudice and we all need to work on how we can make things better. It’s everybody’s job.”
For Michael Musherure, an English teacher at Earl Marriott Secondary, he only became aware of Black Shirt Day earlier this week, but he said he mentioned it to one of his classes and the students were “very excited about it.”
“These shirts, these special days, to me, it’s aiming at alerting the public that we are visible, we are there. Making the public aware that we are here,” he said.
In 2020, Musherure told the Now-Leader about the racism he’s faced, including at the Surrey school district.
Musherure said it’s about “the symbol they stand for.”
“If it’s Pink Shirt Day, and you see boys and girls and everybody in the classroom wearing pink. It projects a big statement and it makes people in the LGBTQ (community) feel empowered.
“For me, as a Black person, if I know there is a Black Shirt Day, and I see the support of the people around me, it makes me feel empowered.”
The first Black Shirt Day comes in the wake of worldwide protests calling for racial equality throughout 2020, sparked by the death of a Black man, George Floyd, after being restrained by Minneapolis police.
– With files from Adam Louis