Black History Month: An eye towards research and innovation - Video transcript (Lerona Lewis)

My name is Lerona Lewis. I grew up in Grenada, in the Caribbean--it's a very tiny island. I moved to Montreal in 2006 to study agricultural economics, and then I transitioned into education and did my Ph.D., again at McGill University in the Faculty of Education. 

How are you celebrating Black History Month at the Faculty of Education this year? 

The activities for Black History Month are held in collaboration with the Teacher Candidates of Colour and the graduate students within the Faculty of Education. 

So together, we have a series of activities, one of them is the Reparations lecture. 

CARICOM countries have come to former colonizers to ask for an apology and a reparation. 

So, the person coming to speak will talk about the challenges and the successes so far of this reparations commission. And the goal is to have broader and wider support for this issue that the Caribbean has undertaken, bearing in mind that Canada was not a colonizer, but Canada had slave plantations in the Caribbean. 

When slavery ended, the owners of the plantations received compensation, but the formerly enslaved didn't receive any money. 

As an expert in Black Youth Studies, what do you think can empower more Black youth to be future researchers? 

So, I've spent the last ten years teaching Science Education and I would say [that] one of the most important skills that Black youth need to be taught today, is the skill of scientific literacy. 

In that way, they'll be able to assess information using science process skills and to decide whether or not to accept an idea based on the evidence that's before them. 

We know that there are not many Black doctors, not that many Black scientists. And if they are excluded from science at the level of high school, or even elementary school, it means that they're not going to have the chance to pursue science later on in their careers. 

In a previous interview with the University, you mentioned the need for the research community to preserve the gains made in combatting anti-Black racism. How do you practice that as a researcher yourself? 

Right now, there's a debate happening in Ontario and Ottawa about including subjects such as White privilege in the school curriculum. 

The argument that Black kids will feel insecure or helpless if they learn about these issues, I think is null and void. 

If we're teaching about issues of White privilege in schools and the focus is on trying to garner sympathy for people of color, for Black people, I would say that you need to reconsider the goal of teaching about White privilege, which in my estimation should be to show students the ways in which the society has been structured to prevent certain groups of people from accessing certain opportunities.  

It would be the teacher's responsibility to provide the support that the students need as they are engaging with this topic and not leave the kids on their own to try to figure out how do I make meaning from this White privilege as a Black student? 

Additionally, when we cease to teach certain subjects, we are limiting the students’ capacity to bring new ideas to solve issues that they are going to be faced with in the future, because we're limiting their capacity to understand the structural issues that impact the structure of society today.