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OISE’s Black faculty discuss the future at Black History Month panel

By Perry King

February 21, 2020  

Faculty speakers from the Feb. 11 Black History Month panel event (from left to right): Andrew Campbell, Njoki Wane, George Dei, Wanja Gitari, Ann Lopez, Lance McCready and Rosalind Hampton. Centre back: OISE postdoctoral fellow Ahmed Ali Ilmi joins the speakers (all photos by Kim Borden Penney).

On Feb. 11, six faculty from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – George Dei, Njoki Wane, Wanja Gitari, Rosalind Hampton, Lance McCready and Ann Lopez – started a conversation.

Organized by OISE’s equity committee – and moderated by Andrew Campbell – the faculty convened to discuss critical issues that affect Black communities at the University of Toronto, in the GTA and beyond. They shared their thoughts with a packed house of students, staff, other faculty, alumni and many from the community at-large. Some of that conversation was also curated on social media.

Here is but a small slice of what the faculty had to say.

George Dei
Professor, Department of Social Justice Education

“Our communities have shaped what we do here, the issues we take on, the challenges and the questions that we ask. When issues in our communities – from education, to childcare, criminalization, employment, unemployment, health – escalates, we have to be at the forefront to seek solutions to these problems. That means we have to mobilize our scholarship for community advancement.”

Wanja Gitari
Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning

“I’m speaking of our collective futures by acknowledging diversities and even differences because we know there’s strength in unified diversity. I speak from my position as a science educator in pursuit of social justice broadly defined. I speak from the position of engagement with discourses on science pedagogy – for disenfranchised individuals and communities. And it’s necessary for me to say that my educational formation is shaped by our collective narratives ... there is a need to acknowledge the collective narratives in the political arena and in education.

“So, to mark this Black History Month today, I would like to speak about the role of allies in our collective past, present and futures, and I will use the Transitional Year Programme to illustrate my point while observing that we have all arrived where we are with the support of allies.   ... There are many of you in the audience who don't identify as Black people. You are not Black, but you identify with a cause for the disenfranchised. You’re here because you care for social justice.

“It is not yet uhuru. Uhuru translates to freedom or independence; so it is not yet freedom, just like the first President of Kenya [Jomo Kenyatta] said. Even as we are here as a collective, we are looking to ask ourselves, ‘How will we chart the cause to find more freedom? ... Let’s join our hands with those of our allies to realize our collective futures.’”

Watch video of the event

Professor Njoki Wane addresses the crowd at the Feb. 11 Black History Month faculty panel.

Lance McCready
Associate Professor, Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education

“I wanted to read one of the lyrics to one of the songs from Sweet Honey in the Rock, it’s called Echo:

“‘The brother you lynched a few years ago,
The sister You raped just the other day,
The babies you starve every day of the week
Nothing but an echo of the past.

“‘The sounds from the jail cells of the Wilmington 10
Are echoes of a massacre keeping black freedom locked in.
The sounds of struggle you hear that are filling your world today
Are echoes of the voices, your fathers killed and smothered away.
You can steal my tongue. I dare you to try to hush my song.
My screams of freedom will flood the air of your children centuries unborn.

“‘Nothing but an echo of the past.’

“I’m thinking of a couple of echoes in my past. One is the Little Rock Nine. I keep the image of the Little Rock Nine close to me when I need strength in this institution. It’s a reminder that integrating universities and Black people’s integration of universities didn’t come without struggle, without violence.

“I really suggest that you watch the documentary Eyes on the Prize, see and understand those images. I’ve often asked my classes to watch this documentary. After viewing it, I ask them: “Would you put your body on the line to gain access to this education?” What does this question mean for you?”

Njoki Wane
Professor and Chair, Department of Social Justice Education

“We cannot theorize our experiences without knowing what we are theorizing. Hence the importance of knowing our history, our collective and individual struggles as well as our strengthens. There is a need for us to identify strategies that Black people have employed to survive and thrive. People of African ancestry have been here for a long time and we should never forget that. We have had a long-standing history in Canada and Toronto. In our theorizing, it is important to have a critical eye while examining our history; carrying out interpretation of our lived experiences or when we are narrating lived experiences of Black people. That is, we should always pay attention to how race relates to gender, class, sexuality, citizenship and other markers of difference.”

“We are part of our Black community. We cannot work in isolation in the academy.

“We need to identify a path for future generation, for our youth. Their voices are important.

“I’ll leave you with a few questions: What does it mean to be Black at OISE, U of T; or even in the GTA? What do we have in common in spite of our diversity as people of African ancestry? What do we have in common in terms of how we experience institutions, organizations, schooling and education? How do people perceive us as individuals and as a collective? What are our strengths?”

To a packed house of students, staff, faculty, alumni and the community-at-large, Ann Lopez discusses community building for the future.

Rosalind Hampton
Assistant Professor, Department of Social Justice Education

“I really want to call attention to the amazing students that are here, doing Black Studies work and using arts informed pedagogies and research methods to think about critiques of colonialism, and about how we can create a university that is a healthier university, a regenerative place for engaging and making new kinds of knowledges. I think having Black Studies generates an environment where difficult questions can be asked, where students can think in creative and critical ways about the role of universities and the role of education more broadly in relation to what’s happening in society.”

Ann Lopez
Associate Professor, Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education

Professor Lopez suggested that “building community does not happen just once, it’s ongoing.”

She asked “How are we going to build on today? … how are we going to carry this energy through? What does that look like, what does that mean? I hope that comes out in our [ongoing] conversation.”

In her presentation, Lopez also said that she draws inspiration from Marcus Garvey, Jamaican national hero and political activist.

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Seven ways to support Black student success: Tips from Professor Ann Lopez