Calgary students celebrate Asian Heritage Month by raising money for mental health supports

Students in the Fairview School Anti-Racism task force handmade the gold ribbons for their campaign

Lucie Edwardson · CBC News · Posted: May 26, 2022 7:00 AM MT | Last Updated: May 26

Fairview School students Andrei Suman, Soliyana Ketema and Leah Xe are among the 75 members of the school’s Anti-Racism task force currently raising money for Asian mental health initiatives through sales of handmade gold ribbons. (Submitted)

Grade six and seven students of Fairview School’s anti-racism task force spent every lunch hour for two weeks making gold ribbons for their Asian Heritage Month campaign.

They’re selling the ribbons to raise money for local Asian mental health organizations. 

Students on the task force said they feel supporting Asian communities is particularly important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to increased instances of anti-Asian racism.

We have seen many shocking news and statistics about racism the past few years, and we just wanted to step up and take action,” said student Leah Xe.

“We thought it was very important to educate students and staff because these crimes and attacks were not okay and they never are okay,” added classmate Soliyana Ketema. 

Teacher Sabrina Lee says students chose to sell ribbons instead of candy for a reason — they want to spark meaningful conversations.

“Even though we arguably could have made more money [selling candy], we said ‘no, we want people to buy these ribbons to show solidarity to the Asian community,’ which is about 90 per cent of our school population … It’s up to us to educate,” she said. 

Students at Fairview School are selling these ribbons to raise money for Asian mental health supports. (Submitted)

Lee said the students have taken on the responsibility to create a sense of global citizenship within the school and to be allies to marginalized people. She said when teachers don’t take the opportunity to talk to students about tough subjects like racism, they are doing them a disservice.

“It really comes back to our priority of ensuring that if our own classes aren’t as safe and nurturing and loving as possible, then what are we doing?” she said.

“They live in the real world. They see it. Having these conversations, it’s not easy. But every little step, every little conversation matters to these students … They can handle it.”

In the last year, the school’s anti-racism task force has grown from 20 to 75 students.

The group has tackled a number of initiatives including hosting Black Shirt Day during Black History Month and creating a ’94 Calls to Action’ initiative to support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. 

“We basically stand with marginalized communities and help uplift them. So we will fight with them and help them raise their voices,” said student and task force member Andrei Suman.

Xe said she and her classmates hope to encourage other students to start anti-racism task forces at their own schools. 

“I think that modern society pushes stereotypes about certain races or nationalities and as children we could be affected a lot. It’s good for me and everyone else in the anti-racism task force and the school and in other schools to know that they’re being supported,” she said.