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30K and counting registered for Black Excellence Day event hosted by Burnaby school district

Tens of thousands of students will log on to an online Black Excellence Day presentation being hosted by the Burnaby school district Friday.
Black Excellence Day2
The Burnaby school district will host a virtual Black Excellence Day event Friday with more than 30,000 students from around the province participating.

A virtual Black Excellence Day event being hosted by the Burnaby school district this Friday is attracting record interest from around the province.

Black Excellence Day is a day to “rejoice in Black history and learn about Black stories, Black art and Black people, and a day to stand in solidarity with Black Canadians,” according to the Ninandotoo Society, the anti-racist charity behind the initiative.

In its first year in 2022, the online event drew 12,000 attendees. This year that number is up to 30,000 and counting, according to the Burnaby school district, which is hosting the event out of the Centre for Dialogue at Byrne Creek Community School.

Come Friday at 10:15 a.m., students from at least 19 school districts and two independent schools will log on and hear from more than a dozen speakers, including politicians, educators, activists, artists, musicians, students, professional athletes and even a reality TV star (Tychon Carter-Newman, the first Black winner of Big Brother Canada).

“We tried to select speakers who we thought would be engaging for youth … They’ll talk a little bit about their experiences growing up, what they see as Black excellence or how it’s shown up in their life,” said Beth Applewhite, the district’s principal of equity, diversity and inclusion, who will MC the event with New West counterpart Ken Headley.

The event, which is geared to students in Grade 6 to 12, will also feature comments from students, including Byrne Creek Grade 11 student Lulyana Tsehaye.

Most of the presentations have been pre-recorded, but Applewhite and Headley will MC live, and the event will include a live performance by Khari Wendell McClelland of Lift Every Voice and Sing – sometimes called the Black national anthem.

“We hope to get across this year that Black excellence is Canadian excellence," Applewhite said. "This is for everybody. It can uplift and inspire all people regardless of their colour, creed, race, gender, sexuality. This can be empowering and uplifting for all. That’s the message.”

Black Excellence Day emerged from the Black Shirt Day movement, and many participants wear black shirts to show solidarity, but Ninandotoo created Black Excellence Day after consulting with community groups such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and BC Human Rights Commission.

They all voiced concerns that the words “black shirt” and people marching brought up traumatic experiences of Holocaust survivors, according to the Ninandotoo website.

Black Excellence Day is designed as a kick-off event for Black History Month in February, and the day coincides with the last weekday before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor