September 29, 2021 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Dr.  Rick Csiernik, Professor in the School of Social Work, will collaborate with Trinidadian-born author Grace Ibrahima on a series of presentations, aimed at discussing racism with Social Studies students. White Questions, Black Answers is a pilot project with the Waterloo Region Museum’s Communities in Canada: Past and Present program that will run from October to December. Ibrahima and Dr. Csiernik will answer questions from students that they may be otherwise afraid to ask.

The project came about after Ibrahima spoke at the Waterloo Region Museum in February 2020. One child, a ten-year-old white boy, caught her eye with his undivided attention. A few months later, the same child, having read her book, asked his teacher to invite Ibrahima to speak to his class. During the first presentation, Ibrahima talked about her life of poverty, chronic abuse, and lack of education. Following the presentation, Ibrahima had so many questions from the students, she was invited back for a second time to present based on those questions.

“The children from Grade 6 I have presented to so far are young, intelligent, inquisitive, and eager for information about another culture. I sense these children are honestly willing to learn about another world, a world in which a Black woman lives,” says Ibrahima.

Ibrahima has used the experiences and the students’ questions as the basis for her third book, White Questions, Black Answers: Helping Kids To Be Seen And Heard. Dr. Csiernik has written the epilogue to the book discussing the relationship he has had with Grace and contrasting his life as a white male in Canadian society with Grace's as a Black woman.

Dr. Csiernik has known Ibrahima for 22 years. They met when she was a student at McMaster University, where he had taught prior to his coming to King’s. Dr. Csiernik encouraged Ibrahima to tell her story and helped her find a publisher for her first book, Mercy: One Life, Many Stories. In November 2020, she was a guest speaker for his Introduction to Addiction class.

The team of Dr. Csiernik and Ibrahima describe their relationship as Dr. Csiernik being Charlie Watts to Ibrahima’s Mick Jagger. Dr. Csiernik provides the background and context on issues that arise from Ibrahima’s talk, including bullying, drug use, white privilege, and other social issues.

“It is essential for me to have Dr. Csiernik as part of the presentation because long before Black Lives Matter, I saw Rick as an ally in my process of self-development and self-discovery. He was the person who tried to walk in my shoes, met me where I was at that place in my life, which was pretty dark. I did not expect an older, White professor to have any interest in me as a student, let alone a Black person, and now after 22 years, we remain friends and an example of how Black and White can work together for a common goal,” says Ibrahima.

“Part of being a social worker is to engage in issues of social justice. At this point in my career, I feel it is even more vital to work to hear a range of voices that have historically not been part of the academic experience. I believe I should be listening to diverse voices at the post-secondary level. I have the opportunity to contribute to this meaningful conversation at a post-secondary level as young people are just beginning to grapple with these challenging and complex conversations,” says Dr. Csiernik.