Charline Grant, left, with her husband and three children. Grant is the first system navigator for Parents of Black Children (PoBC) in York Region. Photo courtesy Charline Grant

Parents unite to fight racism

  • September 19, 2020

Parents in York Region looking for support while advocating for their Black children within the education system have another place to turn.

Parents of Black Children (PoBC) has launched an initiative called Parents United for parents seeking support in advocating for their children who have experienced anti-Black racism in the system.

Comprised of advocates within the York region, north of Toronto, through the new initiative the PoBC has appointed its first system navigator to support parents. Working within the York Catholic and public school boards, members of the steering committee say the new role will fulfill a need for parents to have a third-party resource devoted to advocating for parents and operating independent of any school board.

“The boards do have parent affinity groups, but I didn’t get the support that I was (expecting),” said Claudette Rutherford, a member of the PoBC steering committee and mother of three children in the York public board who helped launch the organization along with other parents of Black children in both boards over a year ago. “In my experience, because I’ve been advocating for parents for a long time, I thought we need something stronger. We need a coalition of parents because our needs are not being centred in those spaces.”

The group received funding for the role from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and launched Parents United in time for the 2020-21 school year. The project also includes education system workshops on various topics aimed at capacity building within the system and a Black parent mentorship program which pairs parents to meet regularly as an extra measure of support throughout the school year.

Charline Grant, a steering committee member and mother of three, has been appointed the first PoBC system navigator, a role she has been operating in informally since the organization began. She says though the organization is currently mandated to serve York Region, she regularly receives inquiries and offers support to parents from across the province, some even with children who are non-Black visible minorities. In high demand, the advocacy group is looking to fund another system navigator as soon as possible and hopes to have a representative or affiliate group in every public school district across the nation.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” said Grant. “I’m helping someone right now in Thunder Bay, as well as parents in the Toronto District School Board and some Durham parents as well. We just keep the data so we can provide our own numbers to the Education Minister to show that this is something that is needed.”

Grant, who has a background in law, comes to this new role after years working in corporate Canada, which she left in 2018. She will continue to balance her advocacy work with the PoBC along with working to help her husband with the family business, a basketball skills development program, and raising their children.

Her work in advocacy began when she experienced issues with her oldest son being treated differently because of the colour of his skin. The family filed a human rights complaint for an incident of overt racism with a teacher in the York public board when their son was in Grade 9. Grant says with a system navigator, issues could have been addressed a lot sooner and would have “prevented a lot of heartache” for the family.

“There’s no amount of money in the world that someone could pay me to make it (more) worth it,” said Grant, whose oldest son, now 19, begins his first year at the University of Windsor this month. “To me, the satisfaction in knowing I’m helping someone else not to suffer the way I suffered is what I do this for.”

The York Catholic board has expressed its commitment to addressing equity issues, including anti-Black racism. On June 3, the board launched a Human Rights and Equity Advisory Committee with eight pillars. Various initiatives include collecting identity-based data and efforts to begin making culturally responsive changes to the curriculum.

“We recognize that equity of opportunity is critical to the achievement of successful academic and social outcomes of all those served by our school system,” the board said in a statement to The Catholic Register. “We remain committed to working with all stakeholders as we continue our commitment to steadfastly inspire effective action and behavioural change that will contribute to the (York Catholic District School Board) being more accountable and equitable.”

The PoBC steering committee has been dissatisfied with the pace of progress up until now. With Parents United it is making sure incidents of teacher racism are reported to the Ontario College of Teachers, hate crimes are reported to the police and other measures are taken to ensure parent voices are heard and change happens right away.

“I refuse to wait another decade to see what happens and force my children through a system that should be pushing for the success of all children,” said Rutherford.

“It’s up to us, I guess, as parents to create that until the system comes through with a solution.” 

Last modified on September 22, 2020

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