A BCTF Antiracism
When Lloyd Edwards emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1950s, he had racist comments directed at him in the community. In the 1970s, Edwards, then a Surrey teacher, noticed incidents of racism in his school directed at recently arrived students of South Asian descent by White students. He decided to act, setting up a school Committee Against Racism, and engaging students in discussions about racism. Success at the school level prompted him to raise the issue of racism at the 1975 BCTF AGM, seeking to involve the BCTF in antiracism work. This resulted in the Federation's Antiracism Program and significant contributions of teachers to combating racism in schools in all parts of the province. Edwards was active in the program, delivering workshops for teachers in districts across BC.
Edward's activism went beyond his antiracism work; he also proved to be an effective leader of teachers in his local. In February, 1974, as the president of the Surrey Teachers' Association, he led over a thousand Surrey teachers out on a one-day strike/protest to the legislature in Victoria. As a result of the action, the BCTF was able to negotiate a deal with the Premier that over the next three years saw a dramatic reduction in class sizes all over BC and the hiring of close to 4,000 additional teachers province-wide.
Now long retired, Edwards, despite observing the rise of White supremacy and increased racism not only in North America, but around the world, remains optimistic that solutions can be found. He believes that strong leadership is required to move us in a more inclusive and understanding direction, for the health of the world's society. With respect to the Black Lives Matter movement, Edwards hopes it evolves into a broad social movement that can successfully challenge open acts of racism, as well as existing and emerging racist attitudes. Edwards still believes teachers and schools play a crucial role in the fight against racism. “Students in elementary schools need to discuss these issues in the classroom and come to understand and support the values of social justice and equality.” His hope is that the antiracism work that he and others in the BCTF initiated over 40 years ago, will continue to move us toward advancing social justice and equality.
By Ken Novakowksi, retired BCTF President
Reprinted from Teacher magazine, Volume 30, Number 1, September/October 2017.