Students hope to rename Vancouver school after trailblazing Black athlete and teacher
VANCOUVER -- Three Grade 7 students at Vancouver’s Lord Strathcona Elementary are gathering support for a school renaming campaign.
Matt Bogdanovic-Milosevic, Chenesayi Kagande, and Sojchana Swatton are hoping to honour a trailblazing black athlete and educator who once taught at their school.
“We’re trying to get as much support as we really can,” Bogdanovic-Milosevic said.
The trio would like to see the school renamed in honour of Barbara Howard, a history-making Black sprinter and teacher. They said they learned about Howard and the history of the Black community in the Strathcona neighbourhood earlier this year at school.
“I thought she was such an incredible and inspirational woman,” Swatton said.
“She broke the record for the 100 yard dash, doing it in only 11.2 seconds," said Kagande.
Howard became the first Black woman to represent Canada in an international competition at the British Empire Games in Australia in 1938. After her Olympic dreams were stalled by the Second World War, Howard went on to become a teacher.
Hogan’s Alley Society director Stephanie Allen said Howard was also the first Black employee for the Vancouver School Board.
“I’m super proud to hear that students are taking this initiative in our city. It’s just fantastic and warms my heart,” she said. “It’s a great way to start recognizing the Black history in this city, and particularly in this neighbourhood, where a Black community used to be once thriving and was destroyed.”
In an email to CTV News, the school district said they have not yet received a formal renaming proposal, but added they’re “committed to following a clear, transparent, inquiry-based process where historical names can be reviewed and considered for possible change."
The district said one of the ways the process can be started if by having a school community bring forward a request.
“The District is currently in the process of a pilot regarding proposed revisions to the process of renaming existing facilities,” they said, and added as part of the pilot, the school board supported renaming Begbie Elementary and David Lloyd George Elementary on Jan 25.
The students behind the Strathcona campaign also have an online petition set up, and researched the school’s current namesake.
“Lord Strathcona was a European colonist,” Kagande said. “He also worked for the Hudsons Bay trading company.”
“He isn’t a great representation for the diversity of our school,” Swatton said.
The students said while most of the responses they’ve received have been positive, there has been some feedback that isn’t in support of the campaign.
Bogdanovic-Milosevic said they are trying to respect those differing opinions and understand where they’re coming from, “but not letting that stop us in what we’re doing.”
The students planned to make a presentation to the Parent Advisory Council on Wednesday.