“She loved all students, but she was very, very keen for the progress of Black students.” – My Name Is Eva: A Biography of Eva Smith (William Manning)
Eva Smith cared about the education of Black youth.
As a school outreach worker in North York, she noticed that the school system and curriculum failed to reflect and engage Black students, particularly those who were immigrants. Experiences of homelessness were also interfering in these young people’s ability to attend school.
In order to close the gap, Eva began offering classes on Saturday mornings to give Black students an opportunity to learn about their history and culture.
Today, Black youth continue to experience challenges in the mainstream education system. Studies have shown that Black high school students in Toronto are more likely to experience “pushout,” including disproportionate levels of suspension and streaming into applied-level classes.
York University’s Towards Race Equity in Education, speaks to the racial biases Black students experience that can discourage them from academic success. For example, many identify being told that they shouldn’t aspire to go to university.
“My school was not full of Black kids, but Applied was full of Black kids. This tells me they were picking and choosing which kids were put into Applied.” – Towards Race Equity in Education
Furthermore, Black students express being treated as threats in the classroom.
“Some teachers interpret student engagement, such as asking questions, as a threat to their authority” – Towards Race Equity in Education
Eva Smith understood that all students need encouragement, knowledge of their communities’ legacies of brilliance, and people who believe in them.
Education reduces poverty and reduces the risk of homelessness. Fair, equitable access to education breaks the cycle of poverty. We have to look at the unique challenges Black youth face in mainstream education and stop the school pushout.
Eva Smith recognized the value of education and the gifts and strengths Black students hold.
As Eva believed, when one person suffers, we all suffer. We need to do better together.