West Island teen influenced Quebec government anti-racism policy

Click to play video: 'Quebec government claims it listened and delivered on Montreal teen’s anti-racism message' Quebec government claims it listened and delivered on Montreal teen’s anti-racism message
WATCH: A West Island teen graduating from John Rennie High School had written a letter to a pair of high profile politicians from the Coalition Avenir Québec government last summer. She suggested they better educate Quebec youth about Black history and racism in schools. And as Global’s Dan Spector reports, to her surprise, they appear to have listened – Dec 15, 2020

The CAQ Government has drawn inspiration from a West Island teenager in the creation of its anti-racism policies.

When 18-year-old Pierrefonds, Que., resident Keisha Ferdinand wrote to the Quebec government this summer, she was not sure she had the power to affect government policy. It turns out she did.

“I guess I was kind of surprised. I didn’t really realize how far it could actually go,” Ferdinand told Global News.

Back in June, as she graduated from John Rennie High School, there was some anger simmering inside of her. Black Lives Matter protests were taking over Montreal streets, and outrage was swirling about a blackface incident at her school.

Read more: Quebec task force tables recommendations to fight racism in the province

She had noticed that barely any Black history is taught in Quebec schools. She felt if people learned more in class, it could help eliminate discrimination.

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She wrote a letter to Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge and MNA responsible for anglophone relations Christopher Skeete, demanding change.

To her surprise, she got an answer.

“A few weeks after I sent the letter, Christopher Skeete reached out to me saying that he wanted to meet me,” Ferdinand recounted.

“I was actually surprised, but I was really happy at the same time,” said James Ferdinand, Keisha’s father. “I thought, ‘this is a really great chance to make a difference,’ and I was really happy that Keisha took the initiative and and it was answered.

Read more: West Island high school grad calls out Quebec for lacking Black history education in schools

She and her parents headed to Skeete’s riding office for a chat.

“We talked openly about where we agreed, where we disagreed, and she let me know where she stood. We focused in on on the aspect of education,” Skeete told Global News.

“What I brought to the table was having courses for the teachers in university, so that they learn how to teach diversity in the schools,” Keisha explained.

Skeete is part of Quebec’s anti-racism taskforce, which released its first recommendations on Monday. Among them was the idea of “including racism and discrimination issues in school curriculum,” and “including the theme of racism in teacher training.”

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In a tweet, Skeete mentioned the meeting with Keisha and thanked her for her help.

“It was really empowering to see that I was actually able to create change and that something that I did can have an effect on the future of Quebec,” Keisha Ferdinand said.

Her father expressed how proud he was of his daughter, and how happy he was that Skeete listened to her.

Keisha hopes the government acts on their words. Skeete said he and fellow MNA Lionel Carmant, both people of colour, feel an immense duty to affect change is members of the anti-racism task force.

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“I looked at Lionel like, ‘you and I both know that we can’t come out of this empty handed and we got to make sure that something happens here,'” Skeete said of a conversation with Carman. “I know I have a tremendous responsibility to make sure that something happens.”

Though the Ferdinand family and Skeete disagreed on certain matter like systemic racism and Bill 21,Β Keisha hopes her story teaches people of all ages the value of speaking up. She says if you do, there’s a chance you’ll be able to help your community be better.

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