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Ending the erasure: Black studies course brings stories of Black joy, excellence, and resistance to the forefront


Michael Musherure (left) and Mel Scheuer (right) are two of the three teachers who created a Black Studies 11 and 12 course in Surrey. Manvir Mander (not pictured) was also instrumental in the process. Joshua Berson Photography.
“Black histories and present-day realities and futures are not just reserved for February.” – Manvir Mander

For years, Mel Scheuer was acutely aware of the absence of Black voices in classroom lessons and resources about BC and Canada’s history. “I always tried to weave Black stories and Black voices into my courses until I experienced more of a revolution in 2020,” said Mel. “At that point, I knew we needed a more systemic solution to stop the ongoing omission and racism in our curriculum.”

 

Mel reached out to colleagues Manvir Mander and Michael Musherure to ask if they were interested in working together to challenge the erasure of Black histories.

 

At the height of COVID lockdowns, the three teachers began collaborating through a WhatsApp group called Planning the Revolution. They started out with the goal of giving students an opportunity to see Black representation in the curriculum; they ended up with approval to run a new course called Black Studies for Grades 11 and 12 in Surrey schools.


It was a long process to design a course from scratch and get the appropriate approvals to run the course in schools. All of the work was done off the sides of their desks, as no release time was available for a project like this, but all three are proud of what they created.


They started out with the goal of giving students an opportunity to see Black representation in the curriculum; they ended up with approval to run a new course called Black Studies for Grades 11 and 12 in Surrey schools. 

For Michael, the decision to be a part of this project was an easy one. “I was born and raised in Uganda, and I was shocked by how little Black representation is included here,” said Michael.

 

By bringing together Michael’s lived experience and connection to the continent of Africa with Mel and Manvir’s anti-oppression lenses, the trio was able to create a course that covers a wide variety of topics related to Black studies, including a strong focus on Black joy, excellence, and resistance.

 

“The course brought to light a lot of positive impacts that Black people in the past had. It is common we see only slavery and its negative impacts being talked about when bringing up Black history; though these conversations are also important, I thought it was refreshing that the course included so many positive impacts,” said Bullen Kosa, who took the course in Grade 11 last year.

 

The course was designed to start with an in-depth look at the continent of Africa. Rather than give students a generalized overview of the continent, the course focuses on particular nations and specific stories. “It was amazing to watch my students learn about their ancestors and understand colonial lies they’ve been told about where knowledge comes from,” said Mel.


Like any curriculum document, each teacher will modify the course to suit the needs of the students they are teaching. In Manvir’s case, the students wanted to start the course by deconstructing the concept of race, so they reversed the order of topics to fit the students’ curiosities.

 

Manvir’s student-driven course meant students were able to dive into their own inquiry questions and analyze the colonial implications of the systems and structures we live within.

 

“When it came time to do research, the course challenged colonial expectations of research by encouraging students to start with their own lived experiences as a primary source,” said Manvir.


“I learned so much about the Black experience in Vancouver. My ancestors were here building this country too; it was enriching for me to learn that.” – Michael Musherure  

After covering the invention of race and colonial history, including the contributions of Black communities in Canada, the course moves on to a celebration of Black cultures, joy, love, and futurisms.

 

Learning like this can be very personal and relational, and so community building, while not officially a part of the curriculum, is an important piece for teachers to consider when teaching this course.

 

For Manvir, Michael, and Mel, the course created an opportunity to learn alongside their students. “I learned so much about the Black experience in Vancouver,” said Michael. “My ancestors were here building this country too; it was enriching for me to learn that.”

 

“For me as a non-Black educator of colour, I recognize that I am in a privileged position to be teaching Black studies, so the course was an opportunity for me to unpack my identity along with my students,” said Manvir.

 

This year, the course did not run in any schools in Surrey. While the course was approved by Surrey’s board of education, it is not yet recognized as an official course by the Ministry of Education and Child Care. The Ministry has approved the course through Explorations in Social Studies 11 so students can receive graduation credits by taking the course. However, the fact that it is not a stand-alone course recognized by the Ministry is still a barrier, say Mel, Manvir, and Michael, especially because parents express concerns about Ministry approval when students express interest in enrolling.

 

When the course ran last year, it was a big success with students. High school student Bullen Kosa shared the following:

 

[This course] forced me as a Black student to dive into the history and motives of historical events that shaped the world we see today. A key take-away I had from this class is that there is a plethora of Black history that is not seen in today’s school curriculum. That needs to change. This course is especially vital because there are not enough people who know about Black culture and history. Things like subtle racism and N-word culture are so prevalent these days due to a lack of knowledge and understanding, so this course is super important to have in every educational institution. In general, the Black studies course was one of my favourite courses. I’m glad I got to experience it and I wish it could be more available across the Lower Mainland.

 

Students have repeatedly asked for the course to be offered this year, so in the absence of the official course schools have implemented some creative solutions to make safe spaces and communities for Black students.



“I’m excited to see where students go with their knowledge, their passion, and their advocacy.” – Mel Scheuer

 

“We asked students, what do you want to do? They want change, so we organize, we learn, and we meet. We started a Beyond Black History Group Collective, which evolved into a Black Student Union,” said Mel.

 

The actions from Black students serve as a reminder that kids are taking it upon themselves to create change, but all three teachers noted that it’s important for educators to acknowledge that the labour shouldn’t be on Black folks. Anti-racism needs to be a collective responsibility.

 

“This course is a step in the right direction, but we need to weave anti-colonial, anti-oppressive, and intersectional lenses into all of our work as teachers,” said Manvir. “Black histories and present-day realities and futures are not just reserved for February.”

 

“I see that students are questioning decisions that instill ignorance and fear and uphold systems of oppression. I’m excited to see where students go with their knowledge, their passion, and their advocacy,” said Mel.

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