Funké Aladejebi discusses education as a tool for Black activism in Canada

SFU Department of History launches public lecture series on Black Canadian history

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Funke Aladejebi profile photo
PHOTO: University of Toronto

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, News Writer

On October 22, 2021, Funké Aladejebi gave the lecture “Black Radical Traditions and Educational Encounters in Canada” at the Harbour Event Centre. Her lecture focused on 60s–70s Black educational experiences in Canadian schools and how resistive methods of teaching responded to everyday occurrences of institutionalized racism in Canada. 

Aladejebi opened the lecture by pointing to conversations about anti-Black racism and the lack of knowledge about Black Canadian history entering mainstream thought. “It feels like that initial momentum that we started with, that urgency to address anti-Black racism in Canada is waning.”

She talked about Black Canadians in the 60s and their heightened political awareness which stemmed from international demonstrations. “We can find that political activism through shared links of experiences around segregation, racial oppression, and violence. 

“As the civil rights movement grew [ . . . ] political activism and social unrest gave rise to a counterculture in North America that directly challenged notions of citizenship and democracy in new and radical ways.

“Education was one of the primary ways in which Black Canadians took political, and at times, radical action [ . . . ] Educational programs implemented during this period, worked to ensure that Black children and parents were taught their African roots, and, of course, that they understood themselves as universally oppressed peoples.” 

Aladejebi explained educational initiatives were the main focus of moderate and radical approaches to activism. She said initiatives such as the 1968 Congress of Black Writers at McGill University and the 1969 Sir George Williams protest “created a redefinition of community activism during this period.” 

Aladejebi explained in the 70s, student groups became dissatisfied with the “existing political order” and looked to alternative educational circles which “embraced Black power rhetoric.” She said other groups in the city continued “advocating for a more unified front to combat racial inequality in Canada.”

She gave an example of the 1971 Black People’s Conference in Toronto, which helped bring together a network of Black populations across the provinces and advocated for Black liberation. Aladejebi said events such as the Black People’s Conference would bring in speakers from the United States and Africa and develop “community events that would conjoin or bring their communities together.”  

Aladejebi closed the lecture by noting the impact of Black Canadians’ political activism on the international political scene. “The initiatives by the Black People’s Conference and the Black Education Project reflected the need for Black Canadians to take direct political action against institutionalized racism in Canada,” said Aladejebi. “They adopted but also changed the language of Black Power movements to sit and fit with Black Canadian ideals. In the hopes of being viewed as less militant in some instances, organizations tried to emphasize a non-threatening form of racial pride.” 

Aladejebi is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on “oral history, the history of education in Canada,” Black feminist thought, and transnationalism. She is the author of Schooling the System: A History of Black Women Teachers. Her lecture is the first in a three-part series hosted by SFU’s department of history called “Highlighting Black Histories.” 

The next lecture in this series will be “Homegoing: Blackness and Belonging Across the Canada/US Border” by Debra Thompson on February 17, 2022. More details about this lecture series can be found on the SFU department of history event page.