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Teachers form Black advocacy group

August 27, 2020 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor


Edmonton teachers Sarah Adomako Ansah and Andrew Parker have spearheaded the formation of the Black Teachers Association of Alberta to advocate for African-Canadian teachers throughout the province.


A group of Alberta teachers is working to improve the lives of African-Canadian teachers and students through a new organization called the Black Teachers’ Association (BTA) of Alberta.

Following a June rally at the Alberta legislature to protest anti-Black racism, Edmonton teachers Sarah Adomako-Ansah and Andrew Parker began discussing the idea of forming an organization focused on making positive change for African Canadians and other racial minorities.

“I feel very hopeful. I feel like change is not a bad word right now. It’s a good word,” said Adomako-Ansah.

As the vision for the new organization was formulating, Adomako-Ansah and Parker held discussions with several other African-Canadian teachers that revealed a lot of commonalities in their lived experiences, such as feeling isolated due to the relatively small number of African-Canadian teachers, a lack of resources that pertain to the African-Canadian experience and difficulty advancing in the profession.

Another common experience that members have expressed is facing racist attitudes or comments from parents or others while those in authority did nothing to stop or address it.

“In many cases, it was clearly and boldly racist,” Parker said. “These are the situations that we are hoping to end … if we just have our faces in there and have the support of the BTA at all times.”

The new organization is being built on five pillars: representation, communication, inclusion, providing support and networking. It aims to collaborate with school districts and other like-minded organizations to foster positive change. One focus is helping more African Canadians enter the teaching profession and gain employment in Alberta classrooms.

“If you have those teachers in front of those kids, the dialogue changes, the understandings change and potentially society could change, so that we don’t have to hear any of these instances of systemic racism,” Parker said.

Another of the BTA’s aims is to help educate the larger community about the real trials faced by African-Canadian teachers.

“We need, not just allies, not just Black teachers, but everyone needs to start talking and listening to each other,” Parker said. “Because in many cases, talking and listening can prevent future issues from happening again.”

One of the BTA’s key messages is that equity and equality are not the same thing, said member Gail-Ann Wilson.

For instance, she noted that African-Canadian students may experience specific issues that aren’t applicable to other students, such as when their hair doesn’t agree with school dress codes or attracts unwanted attention from other students.

“There is a very different set of needs that teachers have to have an awareness of and they have to be able to work within a greater understanding,” Wilson said.

Since the BTA’s inception, its online meetings have attracted up to 40 attendees and its Instagram account has more than 1,100 followers. Parker has received approximately 150 emails from throughout the province and elsewhere. The vast majority of the messages have been supportive; a few have been dismissive of African-Canadian concerns.

“In many of those instances it’s people who just don’t understand what’s happening right now in society,” Parker said.

Black Lives Matter

Parker said he saw the Rodney King beating on television when he was very young and asked his parents what it was about. That’s when he learned the term police brutality. At the time he assumed that such events would never occur again, but he can now recite from memory the names of Black people who have been killed by police: Treyvon Martin (Florida, 2012), Philando Castile (Minnesota, 2016), Ahmaud Arbery (Georgia, February 2020), Breonna Taylor (Kentucky, March 2020) and George Floyd (Minnesota, May 2020).

“For people in the Black community, when we see this over and over and over again, we just keep asking ourselves, why isn’t anything changing?” Parker said.

With a global movement now underway in the wake of Floyd’s death, Parker is hopeful that meaningful change can occur.

“Clearly, there’s an issue and not just in the United States — in Canada as well,” he said. “But I think, via reconciliation and talking and listening, we can make a lot of change, not only in education, but in society.” ❚



BTA’s message to potential allies

“Allied work is so important and for any of our Caucasian brothers and sisters who are thinking, ‘Well, is this a place for me? Is this not a place for me?’  I’ll say point blank right now: this is a place for you because dealing with Black teachers is dealing with all teachers. It’s going to make the entire education system, top to bottom, a better place and a safer place.” – Andrew Parker

“You are not a stranger to us and we’re not a stranger to you. We are choosing to be active in this work that we’re doing. We want you to be comfortable in also being active in doing work with us, alongside us, and to not feel that you have to walk behind or that you don’t have a place or you don’t fit in at all.” –  Gail-Ann Wilson