Following the success of the Pink Shirt Day anti-bullying campaign and Orange Shirt Day to remember the dark legacy of residential schools, there is a push in British Columbia for students to wear black in support of anti-racism.
The Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver is proposing to establish Black Shirt Day in B.C. schools on Jan. 15 to recognize the ongoing civil rights struggle for Black and racialized Canadians.
The date marks the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“We want Black Shirt Day to go national and eventually international one day,” said coalition chairperson Kamika Williams. “So we thought he was a great figure that everybody could get behind and really support.”
King’s assassination in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, sparked massive riots and jolted the United States to recognize its history of racial injustice. That issue reignited last year around the globe following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Proponents say Black Shirt Day would help fight all forms of racism and hate, and build on initiatives already in place in B.C. schools.
“The most important thing is it’s a day for mandatory curriculum on Black history, which we don’t currently have in B.C.,” said Williams.
Pioneers like legendary B.C. sprinter Harry Jerome could be featured and enrich provincial classrooms.
Jerome, who was once considered the world’s fastest man, set seven world records – outrunning racism and a career-threatening injury to win a bronze medal in the 100-metre dash at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
More than 4,000 people have signed a Black Shirt Day petition, directed at B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, since it was launched in late November.
The Ministry of Education told Global News it’s aware of the Black Shirt Day petition but has not received a formal request from the organization involved.
B.C.’s curriculum supports the teaching of Black history topics, but the ministry acknowledged that “there is more work we can do.”
In a statement, it pledged to continue to work to “effectively strengthen the curriculum, further support diversity and add to the global effort to end systemic racism.”
Although not official yet, Black Shirt Day is already on the calendar at University Highlands Elementary in Burnaby and Homma Elementary in Richmond – and the Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver said it has the support of three provincial school districts.