By Hannah Polk
It is the sound that often follows a busy and important woman, and during phone conversations with Juliet Bushi, a common soundtrack: babies crying in the background. Despite the distraction, Mrs Bushi continues to speak with poise and passion in her voice. Although by now, Juliet Bushi is no stranger to speaking steadily over the noise of chaos.
As a mother of three children, a wife, professor, active member in her community, and newly elected Regina Catholic School Division (RCSD) Board member, it seems there is not much Juliet Bushi cannot do.
Originally from Nigeria, Obianuju Juliet Bushi has been passionately serving the Regina community for nearly twenty years. During her time here, Mrs Bushi has seen firsthand the lack of connection and communication between politicians, the education system, and the Black community. Mrs Bushi has since been involved in resolving that disconnection in any way she can.
In the early summer months of 2020, Mrs Bushi helped organize the Black Lives Matter protests and events held in Regina. She says the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year reminded her of the work that needs to be done in regards to anti- Black racism education within the Regina school system.
“There is a need for better representation of Black people in places where decisions are made,” she says. “Change has to start at the top,” Bushi wrote in a CBC opinion piece.
She says that her strong Christian faith, passion for education, and the support of her family and friends are ultimately what motivated her to run for the Catholic School Board of Trustees.
On November 9th, 2020, Mrs Bushi was elected to the Board of Trustees for the Regina Catholic School Division. When asked what it meant to her to be the first Black woman, let alone the first person of colour elected to the school board, she seemed surprised to hear this fact.
“It didn’t occur to me, to be honest, that I was the first person of colour [to be elected] for that school division,” she said. “This is just the first step to dismantle Eurocentric ideologies and create a better space for everybody.”
Mrs Bushi has high hopes and big plans for her time on the board. “I would definitely like to see a lot changed,” she says. Overall, Mrs Bushi would like to, “make sure our classrooms are well prepared” in every aspect.
Starting with the educators, “Their role, in terms of educating a child, is very crucial because children spend most of their hours, most of their day, in school,” Mrs Bushi says. “We need to dismantle the power relation [of] teacher versus student,” she says.
Next on her list is the curriculum, something that past school board members have said is very difficult to change. “Anti-black racism education is something I am very passionate about and something I am pushing towards,” Mrs Bushi explains. “I know that curriculums don’t change overnight,” she says. “It’ll take time.”
In the meantime, Mrs Bushi is hoping to change, “not just curriculum but also the way that we practice.” To Mrs Bushi, anti-Black racism education means more than teaching students about injustices. It also means being aware of the privileges that exist in our society and institutions and how they promote these inequalities.
She gives the example of the English as an Additional Language (EAL) program in the Catholic Schools. Which is something she says has bothered a lot of people in her community.
“Our children are born in Canada, but once your name sounds African or foreign [they are] placed in EAL and our students are complaining that they don’t need EAL. They can speak English. They can read,” she says. “They [should not] have to pronounce things like the dominant society before they are accepted, or before their language is accepted. Things like that will need to be reevaluated.”
Not surprisingly, Mrs Bushi has mixed feelings about online learning. “Our students need that social interaction, however they also need a safe space to learn,” she says. “We don’t want any outbreaks or anyone getting sick.”
Mrs Bushi commends the RCSD for their work in handling the pandemic thus far, “That’s something our division has done really well; promoting a safer space for our students, teachers and all staff.” She describes it as a “balancing act”, between keeping everyone safe, adhering to provincial guidelines, and offering the right support to families.
Moving forward, Mrs Bushi says the students are the priority to her. “I am really focused on making an impact and also continuing to promote a better education system for our kids,” she says.