BY CLOVER STERLING
Hundreds of students came out in full force to march against anti-Black racism in the Peel School Board Wednesday night,demanding change across the region and saying it’s going for too long and needs to stop now. Beating drums and chanting in solidarity, the crowd of marchers headed south from the A. Grenville and William Davis Courthouse in Brampton and moved along Hurontario Street to the Peel District School Board offices at Hurontario Street and Matheson Boulevard in Mississauga. As the beat of their drums started the procession, protesters echoed their voices, repeating different messages. Kimberlee Shelley, a community and political activist who co-organized the march, said enough is enough.
“We are marching for several reasons,” said Shelley. “There has been a huge unrest amidst George Floyd’s death, but even right here where we are, we have systemic an Anti-Black racism issue that has been plaguing our school boards.” She told Asia Metro Weekly that the issue starts with the school board, where young people are the most vulnerable. “We want to see changes in the system, want to see representation across the spectrum, and we want to see a system designed for our children to accept and for a better tomorrow.”
Iris Borough, an advocate on issues affecting ethnic minorities in Peel, is not giving up on the issues of concern. “We are expecting that we will shed some more light into the issues impacting the black community and radicalized community in Peel,in Ontario and in Canada,” he said.
“Besides the death of George Floyd, we now have the review by the Minister of Education on issues regarding the Peel District School Board, and we just had the investigation report come out… all of this have supported all what we have been fighting for, that young black children have be marginalized and that the racial divide within the school system is impacting young lives.” “We want to shed some light on this and hopefully put an end to it, and the only way we believe we are going to end this is for there to be a legislation passed by the (province) to tackle systemic racism within the school system,” said Orughu. He said that if the Ford government is paying attention, they will feel the pause of the community, which is focused on not only a Black and white issue or a racialized issue, but a community issue.
“If there is something wrong in society, it is incumbent upon the Ford government to address the cause because it is ongoing, despite frequent reports,” he added. Suzette Parker, a parent attending the march, told Peel Weekly News she is marching for change and for her family. “I am marching for my children just to be able to have a chance, because I remember how hard it was for me in school,” said Parker.
“That’s why we ran the streets. Some of us came from broken homes, the teachers didn’t care about us, other students didn’t know what we were going through. I hope with this, changes will be done for the better. There is a lot of healing, there is a lot of hurt but something has to be done on a unified front.” In a recent letter to students and families, PDSB Director of Education Peter Joshua assured them that he is aware of what they are going through, and that the board is doing what they can to address the situation.
“I am writing, first and foremost, to acknowledge the pain and struggle many have been feeling these past few weeks and to provide some helpful resources and supports as we work to address and eliminate anti-Black racism,” read Joshua’s letter, which was distributed last week. “We know that for Black students, staff and families in our community, recent events are neither abstract nor distant… we see the significant weight and impact that these local and global realities have had, and continue to have, on members of the Black community and other marginalized individuals. We acknowledge the hurt, trauma and pain caused by these recent events, and are reaching out to provide support.”
The letter indicated that the Board would look to offer additional mental health and well-being programs for students, and help cultivate a deeper understanding of Anti-Black racism and how it affects others. To that end, PDSB announced Wednesday that they had hired a special consultant, Dr. Avis Glaze, to help investigate and advise board members on issues of systemic racism that can be addressed, via community and internal consultations. The recent deaths of Black men, including D’Andre Campbell, who was shot and killed by an officer during an altercation in April – which prompted a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) response – has prompted Brampton council to do everything it can to address the situation. “How are we going to get justice for D’Andre?”
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown told the crowd outside the HJA Brown Education Centre. “The first thing we did is we wrote the SIU saying, ‘no more code of silence, no more lack of transparency.’ We want this looked at now, we wrote that today to the attorney general.” The city, along with Peel Regional Council, has moved to designated Anti- Black racism as a public health epidemic, passing motions to increase supports and investigations on what can be done to improve the system.
Peel Police have indicated that they will examine the feasibility of body cameras during a Police Services Board meeting later this month. “You live in a city, in a region, where we unanimously supported body cameras, because no good police officer will be scared of body cameras,” Brown told the crowd. “Transparency is a tool to protect justice. Anyone that doesnt want transparency, there is a reason for that, because transparency saves lives.” Brown credited a member of his staff, Frances Bradshaw, for spearheading an Anti-Black racism unit set up within the city, and said council will continue to push for greater transparency.
“You have our commitment to do whatever we can to root out racism in the city of Brampton, to make sure that when it comes to policing, we don’t criminalize mental health and that we embrace transparency… we make sure that you know that you have allies there. I know friendship is earned, trust is earned, but you have a council here, you have a Regional Council that will be allies and we do everything we can.”