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Black Lives Matter Saint John pushes for Black history in N.B. schools

Black Lives Matter Saint John meets with government to discuss black history in education
WATCH: New Brunswick’s black history may soon become part of the education system’s curriculum. As Tim Roszell reports, the head of the Saint John chapter of Black Lives Matter met with government officials this week to discuss the move.

New Brunswick’s Black history may soon become part of the education system’s curriculum.

The president of Black Lives Matter, Saint John chapter, said he met with government officials this week to discuss the move.

Matthew Martin said the meeting happened Thursday at Saint John City Hall. He was joined by Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy, other cabinet ministers and community members.

He said everyone in the room was on the same page.

READ MORE: New Brunswick premier meets with Black rights activists

“It was a very short and sweet meeting,” he said. “It only lasted about a half an hour because there wasn’t any opposition. (Minister Cardy) was very on board for it. We’re in the beginning stages now of setting that curriculum up and what we want it to look like.”

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The Black Lives Matter movement started in the U.S. in 2013. Since then, it has helped race awareness of racial and social injustices around the world. Demonstrations worldwide ramped up following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police May 25.

Martin said the amount of New Brunswick Black history taught in schools currently in minimal, and added it should not take a global movement to change that.

But he said the situation does need to change, saying school lessons often only hinted at key moments in the province’s Black history.

He cited the underground railroad, where American slaves were brought secretly to freedom in Canada, as a key piece of the province’s history.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that an exit point is actually here in New Brunswick, in Perth-Andover at Tomlinson Lake,” Martin said. “There’s actually a whole trail you can hike through Joe Gee and the Freedom Trail. And that’s just something small that we learn about that’s so big, that we don’t realize is here in our own backyard.”

Ralph Thomas, projects coordinator at the New Brunswick Black History Society, believes the first Black person came to the province in the 1600s. He said about 9,000 Black people lived in the province as of 2016.

Thomas said he has also been pushing for the province’s Black history to be taught in schools and even takes historical exhibits to them for in-school lessons.

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He said it’s up to the Black community to seek out its own history and to tell its own stories.

“Once we find it, and once we put it all together the way it should be, then we can take it and it will be in province’s archive, it’ll be in the museums, it’ll be in the libraries in the province of New Brunswick. It’ll be where it’s supposed to be.”

READ MORE: Saint John, N.B. votes unanimously to make racial discrimination a punishable offence

The society’s collection of documents and artifacts is sitting in a small office and storage area in uptown Saint John. Thomas said he’s working toward finding a permanent room or building to set up more of a museum because demand for knowledge and information is increasing from New Brunswickers and tourists.

“Right now we’re all ready to get our history where it’s supposed to be. And if Black Lives Matter was the ones that turned up the dial, fantastic. Our dreams are coming true.”

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard, La Francophonie Minister Glen Savoie and Cardy were all part of the meeting. None could be reached for comment.

Martin says the Black history curriculum won’t be ready for this September, but he believes there will be a strong push to get it into schools quickly and appropriately.

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