Students leading the way
High schoolers organizing Black History Month events
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This month a group of Black students at Collège Churchill High School have banded together to curate several events and initiatives taking place throughout the month of February to celebrate Black History Month.
It all started when Nicholas (Niko) Parrott came up with the idea earlier this school year, after a conversation with another student about how the grade 7 to 12 school had celebrated Black History Month in the past. Neither could remember any sort of festivities taking place, though in the past few years any sort of in-person activity had been hampered by the pandemic. So, Parrott and a small group of students started texting with one another on Snapchat and decided that they would take the lead in planning, organizing, and launching several events throughout the month.
“We have a group of very determined students who are trying to change Churchill’s way of thinking, so we are just trying our best… We have a great team, a great teacher that supports us, and we are just doing what we can do,” explained Parrott, 17, who says the group has been working and planning every day since January.
Georgia Wells, acting principal at Collège Churchill High School said this year the school would have hosted Black History events regardless, but is glad to see a student-led approach.
“I think this is the ideal situation when students are leading in their school,” she said. “They’re modelling those leaderships skills for others and that’s the way it should be — I think our students should be the ones leading and staff should be supporting them and guiding them along the way.”
Each morning after a reggae version of O Canada plays, the students carve out a little bit of time during the announcements to teach about a different Black inventor or activist throughout history.
The group has put up posters and pictures of Black people from all walks of life and different professions, and they have set up a display in one of the school’s trophy cases. Every day they’re showing a different movie in the school library as part of a Black Movie Fest, and on Friday’s they’ve encouraged students to wear Black shirts to show their support for Black History Month.
Later this month the group will hold an assembly that will host some Black leaders from the community, including NDP MLA Jamie Moses and former Winnipeg police chief Devon Clunis, who was the first Black Canadian to become a chief of police. A group of all Black students have come together to form a choir for this event.
To close off the month, the group has planned what Parrott calls a Folklorama-type event where they hope to have several people and organizations set up tables with food, clothing, and other items that celebrate Black culture. They’re still in the planning stages and reaching out to Black-owned businesses and groups, but the vision for the event is grand.
Parrott, who was born in the U.S. but moved to Canada as a young boy, says he was inspired to lead the school’s Black history events to create change, and because he’s seen his mom, Donna Taylor, do similar work in her role as president of the Afo-Caribbean Association of Manitoba. He says he has barely learned about Black history throughout junior high and high school, and he’s even written a paper for English class about how Black culture should have its own course, or even a section in where it could be taught.
“Because since I’ve been in Canada and learning, in school and what not, I have never learned about Black history,” he said.
“What they are doing is not just educating the students, it’s also educating the teachers as well. So, once they have that knowledge, they can apply it to every day teaching if they choose to,” Taylor chimed in.
“I am extremely proud of him for just taking the initiative to push forward and represent something that he believes in and stands for. I also want to add to him pushing for Black History Month in high school, he also did the same thing in junior high… They did it for two days, and now in high school they’re doing it for the entire month. So, I am really, really proud of him.”
The reception so far about Black History Month from other students, especially other students of colour, has been good. Some people have already asked if they can take part in organizing events for next year—which is good, because all but one in this year’s group is slated to graduate in June.
Blazing this path has been anything but easy for the 17-year-old and his friends, but the group is proud of the work they’ve accomplished and is determined to set things up in a way that students coming up behind them can continue to celebrate and honour Black history not just in February, but all year around.
“I need to carry that on and finish what I started, and not just give 50 per cent, but the whole hundred,” he said.
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.
Updated on Monday, February 6, 2023 1:25 PM CST: Corrects name to Donna Taylor