Children’s Book Authors Engage in Discussion Around Education and Race

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Start2Finish Canada’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty by providing ongoing educational support to Canada’s at-risk children throughout their school years. On February 26, 2022 the children’s organization hosted the virtual event ‘Voices: A Black Canadian Reading Circle’, as part of its ongoing platform ‘The Thinkers and Doers Series’.  The Black History month event helped kick off Start2Finish’s 2022 theme entitled ‘Otherwise Futures’.

The feature guests were Curtis Carmichael, an award-winning social entrepreneur, who has written ‘Butterflies in the Trenches’, the candid story of his life in the public housing projects in Scarborough, Ontario, where he grew up surrounded by trap houses, attending underfunded schools, and avoiding drive-by shootings. The second guest was Yolanda T. Marshall, a Guyanese-born Canadian author, who has written many children’s books including one of CBC’s best picture books of 2020 “My Soca Birthday Party: with Jollof Rice and Steel Pans.” She is also from Scarborough.

As a children’s author who has kids of her own, Yolanda had a lot to say about the role of education and the implications of false narratives. “The system is set out to make you fail,” she opined. “There are so many people who are so colonialized that they don’t know themselves or their history.” She insisted that education had to an extent fostered this sad reality. “That’s what it’s supposed to do – make you feel like you’re nobody.”

Yolanda counts the birth of her son as a pivotal point in her anxiety regarding elements of the education system. She said it suddenly dawned on her that she was raising a child in a society that she knew was racist and set up to make him fail as a boy. “I said to myself, I’m giving birth to a black boy in Canada, who will go to school, will not see himself in books, will not feel that his identity is culturally relevant.”

Curtis Carmichael learned about the publishing industry in three years. His debut memoir ‘Butterflies in the Trenches’ was the world’s first augmented reality memoir. There are 100 photos in the book, and when you scan photos with an app it displays interactive augmented reality experiences in video, audio and 3D.

When it comes to educating children, Curtis felt that there is more needed than just ensuring representation in books. He stressed that education heavily relied on the enthusiasm of the teachers as well. “Children need to have things that bring them to life,” he remarked. “Having a diverse decolonized library is important,” Curtis agreed, “but also your approach to engaging with that task of teaching is of utmost importance as well.”

He said that teachers need to actually believe in those high values. “You can’t just have them because you are reading them,” he said, “yet not really showing that you understand the value.” He cautioned that children pick up on cues that you are not intimate with the book and the values it stands for. They’re gonna know that you actually inherently care about those communities.”

Written By Mbonisi Zikhali

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