The beginning of February signals the beginning of Black History Month, and there was a moving and unprecedented ceremony at Pierrefonds Community High School in Montreal to mark the occasion Tuesday morning.
For the first time ever, the Pan-African flag was raised outside the school, as jazz legend Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom rang out.
“It feels pretty good, really pretty great,” said Secondary 5 student Jaleel Joshua Meek. “I haven’t really been involved with something like this before.”
“It is both a personal and professional joy to be here today, celebrating the opening of Black History Month and to be a part of this celebration,” said Tom Rhymes, assistant director general of Lester B. Pearson School Board.
Some students watched the ceremony in person, while many others watched via live stream.
The fact that the whole school stopped to pay attention to the raising of the red, black and green flag carried a lot of meaning for organizers with PCHS’ Black Student Union, a club that came to the school last year.
“The red represents the blood of Black people and the blood of those who gave up their lives fighting for our freedom. The black represents Black people themselves, and the green represents the natural wealth of Africa. It’s meant to be a flag that is really representative,” Meek explained.
“It’s honestly such an amazing thing, because not many high schools have the opportunity to do this,” said Secondary 5 student Kayla Johnson, a member of the Black Student Union club along with Meek.
Members of the Black Student Union were instrumental in making the ceremony happen. The club was established at the school with the help of community development agent Kemba Mitchell.
“It meant a lot to the students and means a lot to the staff. It was quite emotional for me,” Mitchell said of the flag-raising ceremony.
Meeks says he went through some difficult times throughout his high school career, and the Black Student Union has helped him feel like he’s not alone.
“Back in any of the schools I’ve been, there was nothing ever like this. There was no other way of support, or no union between Black students,” he explained.
Black students are looking forward to the next month, as the school shines a light on their culture and history.
“Sometimes when you explain it to students, they don’t really understand why it’s so important,” said Johnson. “It goes all the way back to slavery and it goes all the way back to our real history.”
Mitchell hopes events like the flag raising help contribute to Black history soon becoming a more prominent part of Quebec’s curriculum.