Educator honoured for promoting Black Canadian history
August 30, 2017
There was a time when educator & historian Natasha Henry knew more about Jamaica and its history than that of Blacks in Canada.
In high school at Bathurst Heights Collegiate Institute, she read the biography of Malcolm X and was exposed to some Black history.
“This, however, all had to do with the United States, said Henry. “I was curious to know about the history of Blacks in Canada where I was born and raised.”
As a Black History curriculum consultant, she has researched and produced numerous resources that highlight the African Diasporic experience.
Henry was recently recognized for this achievement with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Curriculum Development Award.
She developed a Black History Matters teacher resource that provides a guide to the history and contributions of African civilizations and people of African descent in Canada that challenges students to use media literacy skills as a vehicle to explore various aspects of Black history through biographies, online tools and other historical resources.
Black History Matters is available to educators through the Toronto Star’s Classroom Connections.
The guide helps teachers and students develop a critical understanding of the context of the history of Black Canadians starting with an exploration of the African civilization of Nubia. A module on slavery and freedom starts with the enslaved Africans first brought to New France in the early 1600s and covers their emancipation, participation in the war of 1812 and settlement in Ontario. Other teaching modules delve into African-Canadian life in the 20th century and the legacies, struggles and contributions of Black people in the 21st century.
Henry has also written books on the African Diasporic experience and contributed several entries to the Canadian Encyclopedia on African-Canadian history.
“In this educator resource and in all her work, Natasha has made a significant contribution to deepening our understanding of the African-Canadian experience,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond. “Learning the historical context of Black lives and experiences is critical for providing a context to current day issues articulated by Black Canadians.”
The recipient of the 2014 Gold Medal Moonbeam Children’s Award for Multicultural non-fiction for her first book, ‘Firsts’, Henry said the award is significant.
“It recognizes the need for the work that I do and it shows there are resources out there,” she said. “It debunks the myth that resources aren’t available that can be used in the classroom.”
When she became an educator, Henry vowed that every student under her instruction would learn about the vast history and contributions of Blacks to Canada.
“Black youth are entitled to see themselves and their heritage (s) represented in their classrooms and it’s critical that non-Black students are educated about Black experiences as well,” she pointed out. “…Black youth need to know that their ancestors fought for and demanded equal Canadian citizenship to which they themselves are rightly entitled to. There is much more to be done to improve the education outcomes and experiences of Black youth. I am honoured to answer my call to do my part through the resources and workshops I develop.”
A contributor to the trailblazing anthology, ‘Sankofa: Firsts and African Diaspora’, Henry is pursuing a PhD in History at York University.
Her thesis is focussed on Black enslavement in Ontario.
“That interest came out of the work I do looking at the Black experience in Canada, she said. “Slavery in this province is not something that’s well known. No one has really done any work to figure out exactly the number of Blacks that were enslaved in Ontario and what their experiences were like. I am trying to go deeper in terms of the scope and nature of slavery in Ontario.”