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October 15, 2019

AIC Project Highlight | Still Here: Black Histories and Futures in BC

Twice a year we help teachers and artists connect to create meaningful learning experiences for students in BC schools through our Artists in the Classroom grants. These grants are designed to engage young people to facilitate a deeper understanding of the BC school curriculum and of the world around them.

One way we provide today’s students with relevant and impactful arts-based experiences through these grants include ensuring that there is intentional representation of marginalized artists in schools.

Why does this matter?

We spoke with artist, Ruby Smith-Diaz who recently worked on her project, Still Here: Black Histories and Futures in BC at L.A. Matheson Secondary School. She shared some valuable insight into how art in the classroom help students give them a new perspective on the BC school curriculum and why representation in the classroom can make a difference.

What inspires you to work in schools?

[Ruby] "What inspires me to be in schools is to be the kind of supportive adult and Black role model that I rarely encountered in classrooms growing up. Bullying dominated the vast majority of my schooling experience, and so when I graduated, I was determined to go back into education to be able to change the education system and provide more support for young people on the margins."

How would you describe Still Here to someone who’s never heard of the project before?

[Ruby] "Still Here is an arts-based workshop series exploring the histories and futures of Black people in so-called Canada. I focus on exploring various topics of displacement, colonization, and bringing to light the socio-economic policies put in place by various government bodies in Canada that have negatively impacted the ability for Black individuals to settle, survive, and thrive on these lands. There is also a strong focus on exploring the art and resistance of Canadian Black artists and activists to help Black and non-Black students imagine and enact a world free of racism and other forms of oppression."

What role did your art play in reaching the goals of this project?

[Ruby] "Art was interwoven throughout all of the sessions, and for me, is a fundamental tool to bring people together across differences, build trust in the room, in appeal to all different kinds of learning styles. From screenprinting multiple of layers of maps of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil Waututh territory, to poetry writing on the topic of ‘home’, art is a crucial element in making these topics relevant to young people, and helping them also embody their new learnings."

How do feel this project engaged students differently than traditional ways of learning? What has the response been from teachers and parents?

[Ruby] "I feel that this project engaged students differently than traditional ways of learning because it provided Black students, in particular, a safe voice to articulate their experience of being on the margins, simply because of my own presence as another Black adult in their lives. As a facilitator based in practices of popular education, it is also important to me for each student to be treated as a knowledge keeper, especially because most history about Black people isn’t written by Black people. This dynamic is inherently oppressive, and so I often prompt Black students to offer their experience around the statistics or facts I may be presenting to them, so that we can all learn from each other, and connect our experiences, and co-create knowledge."

How has your experience at L A Matheson Secondary impacted your approach as an artist in the classroom?

[Ruby] "My experience at L.A. Matheson Secondary has inspired me to continue bringing these hidden histories to classrooms, even more fiercely than before. In the last few years, stories of Black individuals experiencing violence at the hands of police and white supremacists have been on the rise, and this can create experiences of vicarious trauma for Black individuals.

For Black youth who do not see their experiences reflected in the curriculum, this vicarious trauma coupled with acts of everyday racism and microaggressions can feel overwhelming, especially if they do not have a safe outlet to share their experiences. This was a common theme that was expressed with the Black youth I worked with at L.A. Matheson, and it broke my heart to hear them express things that I myself, went through as a young person growing up in Alberta.

Ultimately, the feedback I received about the workshop from both the students and partner teacher was overwhelmingly positive and reinforced my resolve to bring these workshops into more classrooms in the lower mainland in hopes of creating a future filled with justice and collective liberation."

Learn more about the Artists in the Classroom grant including eligibility, guidelines, and deadlines on our website. You can also sign-up for our newsletter for resources for teachers and artists.

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