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OPSEU/SEFPO condemns school trustee for stirring up racial tensions

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OPSEU/SEFPO is condemning a trustee with York Region School District Board for stirring up racial tensions over the renaming of a Vaughan high school in honour of a respected Somali-Canadian journalist who used to live in the community.

A significant majority of residents in York Region recently voted to rename the high school after Hodan Nalayeh. The prominent Somali-Canadian journalist was killed in an attack on a hotel in Somalia.  The former Vaughan resident was a great voice among the Somali diaspora and a symbol of hope. Her volunteer and advocacy work supported Somali-Canadian youth.

The move was in response to ongoing calls from community advocates to remove the name of an 18th century British slave owner and the school district posted a survey inviting residents to vote on a new name for the school.

Trustee David Sherman is quoted in the Toronto Star as claiming “certain groups” gathered submissions from outside the country to bolster support for naming the school after Nalayeh, but he has provided no evidence to substantiate his allegation.

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas noted that the school board chair has indicated publicly that Sherman’s comments don’t reflect the board’s views.

“Sherman has not shown one shred of proof to back up his comments and all he has done is inflame tensions,” said Thomas. “This is irresponsible.”

To make matters worse Sherman is quoted as accusing the Black community of objecting to having the public consider naming the school after a Holocaust survivor.

“Sherman is pitting the Black community against the Jewish community by making such comments,” said Thomas.  “This undermines OPSEU/SEFPO and other organizations who are trying to bring folks together and eradicate anti-Black racism.”

It’s all the more hurtful that these comments came during Black History Month, noted OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida.

“This is a month where we think about the rich contributions that Black Canadians have made to our country,” said Almeida. “It’s frankly discouraging to see an elected official tarnish a month of hope and celebration in such an insensitive way.”

Systemic racism for Black people in Canada has been and continues to be a reality.  Many schools and institutions are deeply rooted in Canada’s colonial and racist past.

Peter Thompson, Chair of OPSEU/SEFPO’s Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW) says Sherman’s comments are racist and outrageous, especially during Black History Month and a time of international awakening when we should be taking a closer look at our actions, past and present, to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

“We’re at a critical point in our history, where we understand the mistreatment from the past and have the willingness to address systemic inequities by reforming our policies and procedures with a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Thompson.

“The renaming of a school is an easy place to start.”