The BSU at Pierrefonds Community High School Aiming to Raise Awareness of the Black Perspective

by Kemba Mitchell, Community Development Agent (CDA)

On February 1st, 2022, Pierrefonds Community High School’s Black Student Union (BSU) members hosted the first public Pan-African flag raising ceremony by any Montreal school board. The moment was described by one BSU students as pivotal!

This pivotal moment for PCHS stemmed from my first Governing Board meeting which was held in November 2020 when senior student representatives presented their report.

“Incorporate black history into the school curriculum” – Student body

I immediately connected with the student representatives to hear more. Shortly after, the students approached me about starting a Black Student Union at PCHS, so I immediately thought about one of our Community Partners being John Abbott College and arranged a Zoom meeting with their BSU as an opportunity to offer some guidance and support.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning, the club never came into full fruition, however the seed was planted.
Fast forward to today, our inclusive BSU membership consists of 5 staff members and a mix of 20+ (and counting) junior and senior students. Although the club is still actively working on the official mission and vision statements, members have made it clear that the goal of the club will be to build awareness and to educate the entire school on topics related to Black history, culture, art, and the overall Black perspective. The BSU also wishes to serve as a liaison with the administration, bringing forth any concerns or suggestions to the school where incidents involving race and/or any injustices or discriminations occur.
The idea of raising our school’s Pan-African flag stemmed from a vision belonging to a LBPSB member who shall remain nameless, but who gifted me with a Pan-African flag last year sharing that he had a dream of seeing the flag raised outside our building before he retired. My response was simply, let’s make it happen in 2021-2022!
In roughly 5 months, a vision became a reality with the support of LBPSB management, PCHS leadership and of course our BSU staff and students. We decided to formally introduce the BSU club to the entire school body by incorporating a 7-day pre-Kwanzaa celebration. From December 7th to Dec 15th , our BSU members hosted the celebration highlighting the rich tradition, culture, and shared the heritage of the African American and African Canadian communities. Each day a candle was lit with the explanation of each of the 7 principles shared with onlookers during PCHSs universal morning break.

Umoja (OO–MO–JAH) meaning Unity
Kujichagulia (KOO–GEE–CHA–GOO–LEE–YAH) meaning 

Ujima (OO-GEE-MAH) meaning Collective Work
Ujamaa (OO–JAH–MAH) meaning Cooperative Economics
Nia (NEE–YAH) meaning Purpose
Kuumba (KOO–OOM–BAH) meaning Creativity
Imani (EE–MAH–NEE) meaning Faith

The set up also included African inspired music, a colorful table setting dressed in African material, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as African artwork and a beautiful hand crafted Kinara courtesy of Mr. Peter Oland and volunteer students.

Students’ curiosity increased as the days went on and ultimately sparked numerous conversations.
Kwanza’s candles and the Pan-African flag share the same colors with a meaningful and deliberate reminder for all to see.

Red: The blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation
Black: For the people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag
Green: The abundant and vibrant natural wealth of Africa, the Motherland

And so here we are roughly 3 weeks after a memorable and historic day for LBPSB students and staff. The Pan-African flag flying alongside the Canadian, Quebec and Lester B. Pearson School Board flags symbolizes an acknowledgment and celebration of the many contributions Africans and Black Canadians have made over the last 400 years.

What’s next for our BSU? Well, two members have just completed a podcast called The Blank Canvas with Frank Caracciolo and the members are scheduled to speak to an elementary school about their experience of being part of a BSU club and the Pan-African flag raising ceremony. The club is also scheduled to speak with a former John Rennie student who received much media attention in 2020 for calling out Quebec for lacking Black history education in schools. The BSU members are also actively working on in-school activities not only during February but throughout the year.
The Pan-African flag raising ceremony was my personal first. It was both an emotional and hopeful moment as I was able to witness firsthand students finding their voices in a world where too often they are taught to stay silent to avoid being seen and targeted.
As global citizens, we each have the capacity to lead by example, ultimately allowing equitable spaces for all to learn, thrive and simply exist in our natural form without apology.