Some black teachers trade silence for success – Zanana Akande

By Lincoln DePradine

Front from Left: Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Ontario NDP, with Zanana Akande Back row  members of the NDP Black Caucus

Former Ontario minister, Zanana Akande, says racism affecting Black students in the education system isn’t being helped by some teachers who themselves are of African descent.

Some Black teachers and principals are “an embarrassment’’, Akande told guests at a February 19 Black History Month community reception of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP).

The function, which drew participants from as far away as Guelph, London and Ottawa, was hosted by the NDP’s Black Caucus and Andrea Horwath, who heads the party and is leader of the opposition in the Ontario Legislature.

“Racism is rife within our school system and that racism is rife at all levels of that school system,’’ Horwath said in remarks at the event at the NDP’s Caucus Room in the Legislative Building at Queen’s Park.

From Left: Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Ontario NDP, with Zanana Akande.

“This is not news and that this is not new,’’ Horwath added. “Anti-Black racism in our school system has been around for a very, very long time.’’

Horwath accused the Conservative Party government, led by Premier Doug Ford, of taking a “piecemeal approach’’ to tackling anti-Black racism.

With “deep cuts’’ to education funding by the government, more claims of anti-Black racism are being reported at schools across the province, Horwath said.

“The NDP will be calling this government to implement an anti-racism strategy in education to be developed immediately and across the entire system,’’ she said.

The provincial NDP, according to its leaders, wants to “create an environment where Black Ontarians don’t just survive, don’t just manage to make it through, but actually are ensured that the tools are available to thrive. Black Ontarians and Black communities deserve the tools that they need to thrive’’.

Akande, a former school principal and an ex-New Democrat MPP, slammed the hiring system of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

She said she has realized that many new teachers being hired by TDSB were as “racist sometimes as the ones that they hired way back in the 60s and 70s’’.

“These people are in our schools causing havoc,’’ she charged.

Akande, a University of Toronto graduate with a Master’s degree in education, noted that more African-Canadians are present in the school system than many years ago, with some ascending to success to become principals.

“The fact that there are many more Black teachers doesn’t always help. I tell you the fact that there are many, many Black principals doesn’t always help. The thing about being successful is you begin to like it and sometimes you’re willing to trade your silence for your success,’’ said Akande, chairperson of the Black Legal Action Centre, a non-profit community legal clinic established in 2017.

She encouraged community members to “privately tell those who sell us out that you know exactly what they’re doing and why, and what it means and you will spread the word. Silence may be golden but it’s not the best tool we have’’.

Several New Democrat MPPs from various ridings joined their leader and the Black Caucus members for the event, which included an art exhibition and poetry from spoken word artist Randell Adjei. 

Akande, the evening’s special guest, served as minister of community and social services in the NDP government of former Premier Bob Rae after winning the riding of St Andrew-St Patrick in provincial elections in 1990.

She advised the current Horwath-led NDP to tell people about the party’s program and platform.

“Don’t keep it a secret,’’ she counselled. “Tell Black people that we, at this point, are the only hope we have.’’

Horwath, on behalf of the NDP, presented Akande with a “Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Service’’.

 “You’re the very first recipient of this award,’’ Horwath told Akande.