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Interview with uKnighted Against Racism

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements of Black individuals and communities and to recognize their prominent role throughout history. The contributions of Black Canadians have been—and continue to be—of great significance to the nation’s heritage and identity; however, they are often overlooked. During the month of February, let us not only commit to honouring and educating ourselves on Black History but also actively pursue ways in which we can be an ally to marginalized communities year-round.

This past year has seen a surge in activism through social media platforms. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum and the issues of racial injustice and systemic inequality became evident, social media has become a useful tool for sharing educational resources to a wide audience of youth. Now, more than ever, young people are recognizing the work that needs to be done to eradicate racism on a systemic level and foster inclusivity, especially within schools and other educational institutions. uKnighted Against Racism is a student-led group based in St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton, Ontario that is determined to educate on the topic of racial injustice, shed light on the ongoing issues faced by BIPOC communities, and ensure all students are represented and supported within the school community.

I recently had the opportunity to interview a few members of uKnighted Against Racism to discuss the importance of implementing anti-racism in the classroom. The following section contains an interview with Thélia, Ella, Saskia, and Elijah—student members of uKnighted Against Racism who are determined to make a positive difference within the school community.

Thélia (she/her): Hello! My name is Thélia Badoana and I am one of the uKnighted Against Racism members. I am originally from Montreal but moved to Hamilton two years ago. I am currently a grade 11 student in high school who would like to become a therapist in the future! I love listening to music, travelling across the world, taking pictures, and cooking.

Ella (she/her): Hi, my name is Ella. I'm a grade 10 student at St. Thomas More and I joined uKnighted Against Racism this past November. After I graduate, I would like to become a high school teacher. I love reading books and listening to new kinds of music!

Saskia (she/her): Hello! I’m Saskia! I am a grade 11 student at Cathedral Highschool! I am one of many wonderful members of STM’s uKnighted Against Racism Club. In my spare time, I enjoy educating others and contributing to the community through various groups! I aspire to become a neurologist!

Elijah: Hello! My name is Elijah Barnes and I go to St. Thomas More CSS. I am a student-athlete who plays football and basketball, and I like to read, play video games, and hang out with friends. I am currently a grade 11 student in high school with hopes of receiving a Division 1 NCAA football scholarship and studying Sports Management!

What inspired you to join uKnighted Against Racism?

Thélia (she/her): I think the lack of response from the school board and our schools during the Black Lives Matter Movement confirmed to me that our school and community needed to change. At least half of St. Thomas More’s student population is made up of people of colour and most if not all athletes in many sports teams are Black, yet the school couldn’t speak out about an issue that mattered to many of its POC students. It was sad to see our school and school board turn a blind eye on events that had a significant impact on many of its students. Many were expecting the school, our main resource of education, to address the many events that had happened, but there was nothing. That’s when I realized that our school lacked education on important subjects like systemic racism, discrimination, white privilege, etc. That’s also what inspired me to join uKnighted Against Racism.

Ella (she/her): St. Thomas More is a very diverse high school. However, there is a clear absence of education and change regarding racial discrimination being made inside our school. Until this group started up, I had never really heard any of my teachers speak up against intolerance or recognize their own white privilege. School is a place for education, and that includes significant issues in our society, such as racism. It’s unbelievable that our school staff, which is made up of mostly white people, ignore the diversity at STM as if they don’t teach POC students every day. That being said, I can’t speak for the POC students at our school. But I’d like to be an ally. That’s why I joined uKnighted Against Racism.

Saskia (she/her): Following the various events of 2020, I realized that we need to make a change—from the unjust school system and lack of education to the depths of systematic racism. When I attended St. Thomas More, I felt a lack of representation. Something as simple as a conversation about the latest hairstyle trend would spark a man versus man debate; I’ve witnessed many encounters with staff, everyday classmates, and regular civilians. It’s time to make a change, within our school and our community! Initiating this group has been nothing but a success! We’ve received loads of positive feedback and support from our community! uKnighted Against Racism creates a sense of unity. Our group creates a safe, supportive space for individuals to express their sentiments.

Elijah: What inspired me to get involved was my growing interest in the club. Thélia is also one of my friends who suggested I join—an excellent choice in my opinion!

Tell me about uKnighted Against Racism’s mission. How has the group sought to address racism within the school community?

Thélia (she/her): uKnighted Against Racism’s mission is to educate St. Thomas More’s students and staff on racism, discrimination, white privilege, systemic racism and its global impact. Our goal is to make the school community aware of what the BIPOC community goes through in and outside of school, and how to become an ally. We started our group in December, which did not give us a chance to address racism on our main in-school platform since school went entirely online following the winter break. However, we did not give up. Instead of waiting for schools to open, we decided to create an online platform where we could spread awareness in the meanwhile. Our committee uses Instagram (@stm.uknightedagainstracism) to address world issues, educate our followers and celebrate Black History Month daily by honouring Black artists, countries and more.

Ella (she/her): As a team, uKnighted Against Racism’s goal is to educate St. Thomas More on racism and its effects on BIPOC and their communities. Throughout Black History Month, you can find daily posts on our Instagram! We want to make a real change by fighting systemic racism in our school and local community and encourage individuals to start addressing serious issues. This includes having hard conversations, such as confronting racist friends or family.

Saskia (she/her): First, we targeted our audience: young people! We realized that social media was the only way to get our messages across! Through our social media accounts, we share the successes of influential figures and celebrate different countries, clothing, and cultures. Our committee uses Instagram to reach our students! We advertise many small businesses in Hamilton, which has quickly and successfully gained the attention of students and the community. Our ultimate mission is to educate individuals and create a safe space for people to express themselves.

Elijah: Our mission is to educate on racism in the world, country, and especially our community. We hope to spread awareness and fight against racism. We have used our social media pages and word-of-mouth to address the issue of racism towards minorities and BIPOC communities.

It is my understanding that this group is a recent start-up. How has your experience been so far? What has the response from students and staff been like?

Thélia (she/her): I have been a part of this committee since its start and I am truly proud of where we are right now. I see so much potential in uKnighted Against Racism. My experience has been amazing so far. As a student who has been a part of many other extracurricular groups and clubs in the past, I was surprised by how easy it was to voice my opinions and ideas to our supervisors. From the start, they made it clear that we, the students, were the ones who would run the committee with their support, guidance and assistance. Another thing that I love about our group is the diversity. We have students from different races, cultures, and backgrounds. We got a lot of positive feedback from some of our supporters who follow us on Instagram, as well as teachers and parents who were proud of what we were trying to achieve. Many St. Thomas More students were happy that the school was finally taking action by addressing the racial issues that had been going on. The school acknowledging that change and education were needed in our community was the first of many steps towards a better educational environment.

Saskia (she/her): Although it started at five individuals, our team dramatically expanded! I have been a part of uKnighted Against Racism since the very start, and am proud of being a part of this committee! This committee isn’t just a group, it’s a family. We’ve all grown so close to each other and we realized each other's potential. Before this committee, we would walk past each other, not knowing that we were so different, yet so similar. The students and staff at St. Thomas More are incredibly supportive! They join, initiate, and promote our group. The staff and students are our #1 supporters!

Elijah: My experience has been great. At meetings, we have talked about a lot of worldly problems when it comes to discrimination, racism, and white privilege. We also discuss our agenda and plan our activities for the week and months ahead. I have seen a big step in our growth when other students approach me and ask if they can join the committee!

Why do you believe initiating an open conversation about racism in the classroom is so important?

Thélia (she/her): The key to ending racism in our society begins with education. Schools are where many people form and decide what their morals and values are. Without having open discussions about these extremely important and relevant issues in our society, which affect everyone, we are not truly receiving an education that will help us grow as people. Schools should be a safe and open environment where students are able to not only share and express their opinions but also learn from others' perspectives as well.

Elijah: It is important to educate those who are, in a way, “blind” to the problems in the world when it comes to racism, especially when these issues are happening all around us.

Is there any advice you would give to students who are looking to make a difference in their own schools and communities?

Thélia (she/her): What I would advise to other students who would like to make a change within their communities is to not let fear stop them from letting their voices be heard. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that it is very difficult to be the first one to share your opinions or bring attention to controversial topics which may have never been addressed before. Fear is your biggest enemy when working towards social justice. There will always be people against you. You’ll make enemies from people you don’t even know. But that just means your message is being heard. A difference is being made. Get people out of their comfort zones, and make them question. Believe in your power to make a difference and use that passion and convert it into initiatives that can be done at your own school and community. Don’t let fear stop you from working toward the change that you believe in.

Elijah: Keep pushing to get the word out. Get people who will be by your side to share your message. And most importantly, inspire others. Inspire others by motivating them to join the fight and make a difference!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Ella (she/her): uKnighted Against Racism is truly an incredible initiative to be a part of. I’m glad to see our student body here at St. Thomas More taking action and addressing serious racial issues and injustices within our school, our community, and the world. Our committee has grown so much since we started up!

Thélia (she/her): I truly believe that uKnighted Against Racism has the potential and capacity to become bigger than we were envisioning it and I am excited to see the impact we will have on our community.

Saskia (she/her): I am beyond excited to see the future generation of uKnighted Against Racism and I hope we expand, inspiring other students to advocate and educate!

A uKnighted Against Racism team meeting over Zoom.

It is evident that the members and administrators of uKnighted Against Racism are passionate about making a positive change within the school and local communities. Their powerful message is only one example of the astounding potential of youth as tomorrow’s leaders and changemakers.

Additional Resources

Here are a few links to visit for further learning:

  • Biographies of notable Black individuals who have contributed to Canada’s history (here)

  • Collection of Black History in Canada resources from The Canadian Encyclopedia (here)

  • An Anti-Racism Reading List from Penguin Random House Canada (here)

  • Black History tours, interviews, and media from the Ontario Black History Society (here)

  • Explore the stories of Black Canadian History from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (here)

Article Author: Victoria Huang

Article Editors: Edie Whittington, Valerie Shirobokov