ONABSE says it won’t take the money because the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is failing to adequately address anti-Black racism in the educators’ union.
By Lincoln DePradine
At any time, especially now with the financial uncertainty and instability wrought by the Coronavirus pandemic, almost every volunteer-run service organization would grab at an opportunity at receiving a cash donation.
However, the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) has done quite the opposite. The organization has turned down an offer of $5,000 from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which is being accused of failing to adequately address anti-Black racism in the educators’ union.
“We’re here to serve Black educators, students and parents of this province. We’re open to still working with OSSTF to rectify and address the concerns,’’ ONABSE president Warren Salmon said at a news conference Monday.
The news conference was convened by Black and racialized education workers of the federation who refer to themselves as the “OSSTF Disruptors”. They say the event was to continue “raising the alarm on the lack of action and continued resistance from the union’s executive to dismantle white supremacy and address anti-Black racism and intersectional oppression in the union’’.
The OSSTF, founded in 1919, represents about 60,000 education sector employees including public high school teachers; occasional teachers; educational assistants; continuing education teachers and instructors; psychologists; secretaries; speech-language pathologists; social workers; and plant support personnel.
OSSTF Disruptors’ members told reporters that they have attempted to meet with the federation’s provincial executive to address their concerns and to make demands such as establishing a committee “dedicated to dismantling anti-Black racism and intersectional oppression’’.
They said they also garnered more than 750 signatures on a petition calling on the OSSTF to implement a system allowing “seconded organizers’’ to work with “Black and racialized communities as stakeholders in education’’, and also to set up a “dedicated budget line to support all local branches in the union in dismantling anti-Black racism and intersectional oppression’’.
None of the demands has been met. It’s something that has angered the OSSTF Disruptors and its allies such as ONABSE, whose stated functions include working “to eliminate and to rectify the effects of racism, harassment and sexism in education’’.
Another ally is ANCHOR, a coalition of individuals and organizations “committed to empowering Black communities through civic engagement, community mobilization and campaigns that turn issues into policies that change people’s lives’’.
ANCHOR was formerly known as the Vaughan African Canadian Association.
“The system wants us to put up with racism in exchange for a decent job, a home, a good education, but it continues to ignore and marginalize us,’’ Shernett Martin, ANCHOR’s executive director, said at Monday’s news conference outside the OSSTF’s head office in Toronto.
“How many more amazing Black educators and staff would have to be demoted and lose their jobs because of a system that refuses to change? There are people that are going through mental health challenges. There are people that are unwell because of anti-Black racism,’’ said Martin.
In the past few months, added Martin, “we have personally seen and heard about an onslaught of anti-Black racism attacks and positional racism from institutions against Black teachers, administrators, union staff, executives and teacher staff. We have seen teachers and employees be demoted, let go and silenced,’’ she said.
“We cannot – and must not – allow this to continue. The system has allowed race to impact and inform the way they do business for Canadians; the way they do business in terms of our students and our schools.’’
ONABSE, in rejecting the OSSTF’s $5,000 donation, is standing in support of OSSTF Disruptors, said Salmon.
He said ONABSE held a series of meetings with OSSTF officials, at which the anti-Black racism issues were discussed and a list of “some action items’’ was presented aimed at finding a resolution.
In Salmon’s words, the action items were from OSSTF members “who feel they’re not being heard, they’re not being listened to, they’re not being respected and they’re experiencing anti-Black racism’’.
The OSSTF “stated that we had a deadline of June 30, end of the school year 2021, to decide if we wanted to accept the donation’’, said Salmon.
OSSTF Disruptor member, Deborah Buchanan-Walford, urged ONABSE, ANCHOR and other community organizations to stand steadfast in the anti-Black racism struggle with the Teachers’ Federation.
“Wherever possible, amplify Black voices,’’ she appealed. “I cannot say that enough. Amplify our voices and that is how you will help us to eventually dismantle and disrupt anti-Black racism in OSSTF.’’