Grace Ibrahima allows children to come to her with any questions they may have about herself, her life and her experiences with racism.
Ibrahima grew up with many unanswered questions. In her hometown in Trinidad, a clear message was imprinted in her mind as a young child: that she would be seen, but not heard.
As an adult, she moved to London, England, then Ontario. And Ibrahima says she vowed that, one day, she would turn that message around. Now she is on a journey to give children a safe space — not just to be heard, but also to talk about racism.
“I found that many books I read about Blackness, racism and all of that, I felt as though the author was talking down onto the children,” Ibrahima said from her Kitchener-Waterloo home. She said she felt the authors had messages they wanted children to agree with.
That’s why in her work, Ibrahima has taken a different approach, allowing children to come to her with any questions they may have about herself, her life and her experiences with racism. Pulling from her own life, Ibrahima tries to answer them with honesty and care.
She recently partnered with the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum for a pilot educational program that sees her join a class and have students ask her their questions.
That idea stemmed from an experience Ibrahima had with a Grade 5/6 class at J.D. Hogarth Public School in Fergus, Ont., in 2020. It also paved the way for her third book, White Questions. Black Answers. Helping Children to Be Seen and Heard.
In the book, Ibrahima answers all the questions she was asked from that day. Early chapters look at questions around where she was born and growing up in Trinidad. Later chapters delve into deeper, harder questions like those around her experiences with racism.
Responding a Grade 7 student’s queation about when did you start experiencing racism and how did she deal with it, Ibrahima said she started experiencing racism when she lived in England, especially when she went to government offices. During that time, Ibrahima said she depended on social supports like affordable housing and felt “very much singled” out when she noticed she was treated differently than white people in the same situation.
“We all in the same social leaky boat, but still they got preferential treatment,” she said.
Another student asked: “What gave you the courage to talk about the racism you’ve experienced?”
Ibrahima went back to the time before her husband died in 1995 — and she remembers what he said to her.
“I didn’t realize what he was saying to me was [that] I’ve got worth. I’ve got value and I am not a dumb person,” she said.
She also credits the students she’s met, saying they give her the courage to go even further.
Ibrahima says she hopes those who read the book will take a moment to pause and dig deeper, to search themselves and their conscious about the issue of racism.
“I don’t think that’s too much to ask, not just the children, but their parents and anyone who will be listening. Search your soul and your heart in relationship to the questions and the answers in this book and see what happens,” she said.