Skip to content

Black Excellence Day event hosted by Burnaby school district draws 12,000-plus

'The level of interest was beyond our wildest hopes,' says district principal of equity, diversity and inclusion

Interest in a virtual province-wide Black Excellence Day event hosted by the Burnaby school district last week exceeded the “wildest hopes” of local organizers.

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 event.

It was officially proclaimed by the province last week, and the Burnaby school district hosted its official, virtual event on Friday.

More than 12,000 people from 17 school districts and five independent schools ended up participating, according to the school district.

“The level of interest was beyond our wildest hopes,” said Beth Applewhite, the district’s principal of equity, diversity and inclusion. “We had more than double the number of people participate than what we were expecting, which I believe reflects people’s understanding that these events are for everyone.”

Participants heard from 15 speakers, ranging from educators to artists to athletes, and watched 14 “student voice videos,” including three featuring Burnaby students.

“The response was overwhelming, with a lot of people commenting afterward, in particular, about students – both how inspiring it was to hear from students in their own words and what it meant to see students sharing their learnings, posters, bulletin boards and book displays on social media,” Applewhite told the NOW.

Black Excellence Day emerged from the Black Shirt Day movement, and many participants wore black shirts to show solidarity on Friday, 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.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor