Show and tell: Christian Mbanza puts the focus on celebrating Black history in the classroom

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: February 7, 2022 2:00 p.m.

A graduate of the French Education Program at the U of R, Christian Mbanza (BEd ’17) currently teaches Grade 7 at École St. Mary and serves as Community Outreach Director for Black in Sask.
A graduate of the French Education Program at the U of R, Christian Mbanza (BEd ’17) currently teaches Grade 7 at École St. Mary and serves as Community Outreach Director for Black in Sask. Photos provided by Christian Mbanza

Christian Mbanza is a storyteller at heart. Whether it’s the story of the West African ruler who was (and still is) the richest man to have ever lived, or the story of how Christian was racially profiled in his own community, Mbanza is bringing stories of the Black experience to the forefront anyway he can.

As graduate of the French Education Program at the U of R, Christian Mbanza (BEd ’17) currently teaches Grade 7 at École St. Mary and serves as Community Outreach Director for Black in Sask.

In celebration of Black History Month, we sat down with Christian to talk about the importance of teaching Black history and how his experience at the U of R helped shape his career as an educator.

What inspired you to introduce more Black history education into your classroom curriculum?

Christian Mbanza
Mbanza is currently obtaining his Inclusive Education Certificate at the U of R and also plans to get his master’s degree.

History was my minor at the U of R, so I’ve always been super passionate about learning and teaching about important historical events, but also about the people involved. I had a high school history teacher who would always tell us that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, so that would always be in my head while I was learning history and I still see how true that is throughout society today.

I wanted to learn more about Black history so, like most people would, I started with major events like the transatlantic slave trade and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. This led me to find out more about events that have happened in Canada and I was shocked to find out that there has been an omission of a lot of these events in Canadian history books. So I wanted to share with my students the real history of the black experience in Canada.

How have your students responded to learning about Black history?

The great thing about students that age is that they have a lot of questions, especially when you give them the freedom to ask anything about anything. I always try to frame what I’m teaching objectively and let the students formulate their own opinions, which I admit can be hard when you’re teaching about things like the Canadian government implementing immigration laws in 1911 that restricted Black people from coming to Canada.

The biggest struggle for my students is figuring out why these things happened throughout history. It can be difficult for them to understand the politics and the nuances behind all these issues, so I really try to get them to see the bigger picture of what’s happened and what their role within that narrative is.

I’m finding that a lot of students are even more passionate about some of these topics than I am. I remember teaching a lesson about Jim Crow and afterwards when it was time to move on, I had students come up to me and ask why we were moving on so quickly because they wanted to stay on the topic and learn more.

How did your experience at the U of R shape your career as a teacher?

I had some very influential professors like Clay Burlingham, who changed my entire perspective on how history was taught, Dominic Sarny, who was instrumental in teaching me about cultural pride, and Jean Dufresne, who showed me how to implement my passion into what I teach and how I teach it. A lot of how I teach has really come from my education at the University and these professors especially.

University also taught me how to conduct proper scholarly research, filter out the noise, and think objectively about both sides of the story. I do my best to teach those same methods to my students, which is so important given how easy it is for them to access all kinds of information.

Any plans to continue your education at the U of R?

Right now I’m getting a Certificate of Extended Studies in Inclusive Education, which has been a great experience and is helping me become a more well-rounded educator. My long-term goal is to get a master’s degree because I want to make a significant impact on education. It helps to be involved in the administration side of things where you can influence curriculum and learn more about how students operate and learn best.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the past couple years is that while specific courses may not change often, it’s the students who are changing in response to the shifts that are happening throughout society. The way students learn is constantly evolving, so I need to evolve as an educator and continuing my education at the U of R is big part of that.

Black Lives Matter Rally

Mbanza speaking at a Black Lives Matter rally in Regina

You’re also doing a lot of work outside of the classroom, can you tell us more about your role as Community Outreach Director with Black in Sask?

When the George Floyd situation happened, there were rallies all over the world and the Black in Sask group was organizing the rally in Regina. They needed a speaker and I had just gone through a situation where I was racially profiled so they wanted to me talk about that at the rally, so that’s how I got connected with Black in Sask.

After the rally, we had meetings with the municipal and provincial governments as well as the chief of police. Since then, we have become a registered not-for-profit organization and our goal is to continue sharing Black perspectives and celebrating Black successes. We have a great community that’s always growing, so check us out on Instagram and Facebook to get connected.

Do you have any advice for those who want to get involved or show their support, but aren’t sure how?

I think one of the best things you can do is celebrate Black success stories from both the past and present. A lot of people tend to start by learning about the major events like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, but that’s not all of our history.

I encourage people to educate themselves on narratives and individuals outside of those two periods, like the 14th Century West African ruler Mansa Musa, who to this day is the richest person who ever lived. Or Canadian stories like the Coloured Hockey League, which was founded 22 years before the National Hockey League.

Celebrate and amplify the contributions that have been made by members of the Black community not only during Black History Month, but every month.

Thanks Monsieur Mbanza!

The University has committed to creating a healthy campus community and learning environment in its 2020-25 strategic plan All Our Relations, or Kahkiyaw kiwȃhkomȃkȃninawak in Cree. Well-being and Belonging is one of the five Areas of Focus in the strategic plan, with three interconnected objectives below it: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; Healthy Living; and Mental Health Literacy and Research.