On Friday 15th February, JacanaBooks attended the University of Alberta's Focus Group and Conversation Cafe for African, Black and Carribean parents. The forum gave us food for thought. It was very well attended and the speakers were Prof Phil Okeke-Ihejirika, Dr Bukola Salami, Dr Jordan Salma and Dr Christina Nsaliwa. Dr Phil Okeke-Ihejirika is a professor in the Women's and Gender Studies Department of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Her areas of expertise include Gender and Higher Education in Africa and Africa International Migration.
Dr Bukola Salami s an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta. Her research program focuses on policies and practices shaping immigrant health. As of January 2019, she has been involved in 38 funded research projects. She is the lead on 17 of these projects with funding from national and international agencies.
Dr Jordana Salma is a Registered Nurse and an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta. Her research focusses on improving health and well being of senior, including immigrants. She has done research on healthy ageing with Arab, South Asian and African seniors in Edmonton.
Dr Salami gave the lead presentation in which she argued that research from the United States suggests that black preterm babies, especially girls, have better health outcomes in the neonatal period than caucasian preterm babies, especially boys, who are born at the same gestational age and at the same hospital in the United States. She hasn't come across any studies in Canada on this phenomenon yet but the data from the United States leave us with several questions. The question she left us with was to consider where the African child begins to fail. Is it at primary, middle or high school? She alluded to the fact that in Edmonton today, Africans were at the bottom of the proverbial ladder in every field.
Dr Regine King is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. She has a PhD in Social Work and a Masters' of Education (M.Ed) in Counselling Psychology and Community Development from the University of Toronto. Her research focusses on psychosocial processes involving survivors of organised and structural violence. In Dr King's presentation, she urged us to consider the behaviour of our children when they deal with racist and discriminatory behaviours in classrooms. Children often do not have the language to express feelings of isolation in the classroom. A child often wants to answer questions but feels inadequate time and time again when his teacher ignores him. Many African children feel invisible in their schools. Feeling invisible as an everyday occurrence for black African children lead to anger, resentment and eventually, some children drop out of the school system. If as parents, we are subjected to subtle and overt discrimination at work and somehow, we retain our sanity. How do we expect our children to cope? What are the coping mechanisms we have in place for our children?
Consciously making our homes safe places for our children is one way to begin the conversation about school life. The problem is some African parents work two or three jobs. They barely get to spend time at home with their children let alone communicate with them. Parents cannot make the problem of racism go away, but they can help by volunteering in schools and taking an active part in their children's school life.