We were proud to welcome Leroi Newbold as our 2018 conference keynote speaker.
Leroi Newbold, Director, Young Freedom Fighter Educator & Curriculum Writer
LeRoi Newbold is the founding director of FreedomSchool, and has designed Afrocentric/Black focused curriculum and taught at the Africentric Alternative School for the past 9 years. LeRoi has worked with children and youth for the past 16 years as a teacher, early childhood educator, youth facilitator and arts facilitator. LeRoi is currently undertaking his masters in Black Affirmative Education at York University.
Teaching for Justice: Keynote Address by LeRoi Newbold
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I am honoured to share space with you as a parent and as an educator for whom education needs to be a liberatory practice in support of and defense of Black lives, Indigenous, queer and trans lives, disabled, working class and poor lives, migrant lives and all other lives less valued within our society. I appreciate the opportunity being asked specifically to speak not only about inclusion or equity or courageous conversations but about justice. At this moment in our history, achieving justice implies a need for transformation on a systems level. There is a necessity for us to progress from using not only an equity-based framework, but a framework of self-determination and freedom. Namely the freedom for Black and Indigenous communities to control our own lives. There is an obligation for us not to level the playing field, but to take the lead from Black and Indigenous people in understanding what sport is to be played.
We must progress from having courageous conversations to living courageous lives focused on fighting for our most marginalized students for whom courageous conversations are not courageous, but everyday conversations about the reality of their lives. Everyday conversations for marginalized communities are conversations about police brutality, about incarceration, about abuse and trauma but also they are painfully beautiful conversations about living as Black transgender people, about relearning our traditional forms of justice, about resistance and refusal. Allied conversations need to be about listening, taking direction from, humbling oneself, serving and working in service of marginalized people not because of pity, but because of grief. Not because of guilt, but because of a recognition that our fates as human beings are tied to each other.
At this moment when justice requires transformation, we are obligated to learn to recognize the moments in which we are being asked to collude with a system that oppresses Black and Indigenous people. Be we asked to report our most vulnerable and struggling families to an organization such as the Children’s Aid Society, who are 168% more likely to apprehend an Indigenous child than a white child, what will we say? Be we faced with disciplining a Black child who is three times more likely than a white child to be suspended in his/her or their school career, what will we do? Be we asked to allow police officers into our schools whose practice is to openly share data with Canada Border Services Agency that could lead to the deportation of an undocumented student what will we do? And when the decision is out of control will we let it go or will fight as hard as the Black African parents and students who died in the Soweto Uprising fighting for the right to speak their own language in school?
When we refuse to let injustice happen, many beautiful and powerful things happen. For those of us in this room who refuse, there are different questions than those just asked that we may dream of. Out of our refusals, what beautiful new forms of justice will we create or remember instead of practices of policing, punishment and detention? What beautiful new genders we will make space for? What beautiful Black brilliance will we inspire, nurture and care for? In the breaking of this system, what beautiful new practices will we build or allow to grow? Instead of shame, what beautiful dignity we will instill. What beautiful children we will raise together. What beautiful love we will share? Sometimes as marginalized people we survive because of our ability to read situations, to understand systems of oppression and to shift the violence that is hurled at us outside of our bodies. We may then understand oppression not as a deficit within ourselves, our families or our communities, but as a reflection of systemic issues. Our analysis, our sharpness and our intellect helps us to survive. To teach a child these skills may be synonymous with helping that child to survive.
However, this will not stop the violence from being hurled and the injustice from happening. It allows to us manage it. We no longer wish to manage. This is why each day that passes the movement for Black lives grows and the voices get stronger. It is not enough to teach us to manage, as we wish not only to survive, but to be free. Therefore education for justice means educators participating in a fight for injustice to stop. It also means children being given tools and skills to fight for an end to injustice. These tools and skills could include arts-based strategies, protest, disruption, writing, healing practices or a number of other strategies.
One thing is for certain... there are multiple, insistent and powerful demands for us to share power and trust in the vision that marginalized people have for their own education, parenting, safety, community, and lives. We will need to trust that people know what they are doing, and then from there see how we might help. Sometimes we will need to get out of the way so that people whose experience reflects that of our most vulnerable students might take up space and occupy positions of power. T
hank you for giving me an opportunity to occupy this space as a Black, queer, transgender parent and educator. Thank you not only for dreaming of different possibilities for our children, but for working tirelessly for them.