Thomas Haney Secondary’s Selma Babiker spoke at the virtual Lifting Black Voices Youth Conference last month.
The Grade 12 student presented online in front of 3,000 participants from across the region and discussed her experiences as a person of colour living in the Lower Mainland.
“I am glad I was able to get my message out,” she said, later adding: “Seeing a group of racialized students from across Vancouver talk about their experiences and knowing I am not alone meant so much to me.”
The Lifting Black Voices Youth Conference was held on February 17, organized by the Burnaby School District as part of February’s Black History Month. The event featured Jean Augustine, Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament, Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver chairperson Kamika Williams, and author and poet Cecily Nicholson, who shared excerpts from her book Wayside Sang.
As part of her presentation, Babiker talked about how colourism has affected her in her daily life and the impact it has had on her mental health.
“Her response was articulate, powerful, and helped many students across the Lower Mainland… navigate this complex question,” said Kenneth Headley, a vice-principal at Maple Ridge Secondary who saw the presentation.
Babiker said that while discussing such a personal topic was “never-racking,” she hopes telling her story will change the way people think about living as a person of colour in a predominantly white city.
“It opens up minds,” she said of conferences like Lifting Black Voices. “This is a world where race is something super important and affects our lives… There is a lot of work that we need to do.”
And Babiker is helping to do that work.
At her school, she started an anti-racism club called Diverse Your Narrative and was part of bringing a safe-space room to Thomas Haney Secondary where students can talk about their experiences.
“A lot of racism comes from miseducation,” she said. “As a racialized student with people in a white-dominated school, I think it is important that we speak out.”
At the district-level, SD42 recently launched the Anti-Racism Team, which began meeting last fall. The group includes representatives of B.C. Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association and is providing resources and learning opportunities for staff and students. It will make recommendations on implementing district policy around racism and equity issues.