Why this Canadian teen spends hours every week holding up a Black Lives Matter sign

Fourteen-year-old Serena Jenna sits at the same spot in downtown Yellowknife every Tuesday to raise awareness about racism against Indigenous, Black and other people of colour. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
Serena Jenna, 14, opens up a folding chair and pulls a green blanket out of her backpack to protect herself from the rain.

She hunkers down for several hours at a street corner in downtown Yellowknife.

Drivers blow their horns as they pass, others walk by barely noticing her.

On her lap is a large cardboard sign. It reads “BLM” in large letters, which stands for Black Lives Matter.

For the last five Tuesdays, Jenna has set up camp in this same spot quietly demonstrating for several hours.

Jenna says supporting the Black Lives Matter movement is not just a trend; it’s about people’s lives. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
“It’s just basic human decency.”Serena Jenna, 14

“I know sitting here some people are going to say, ‘Oh, that’s such a brave thing to do,'” said Jenna about being a teenager standing up against racism.

“Don’t do that,” she said.

“It’s about Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and every single other person who has faced discrimination just because of what they look like.”Serena Jenna

Jenna, who identifies as queer, says she’s known about racism for a long time, learning about slavery and colonization in school.

“I can hide the fact that I am queer. For people who can’t hide who they are it must be so much harder,” said Jenna.

The teen says she learned about the death of George Floyd, Elijah McClain and Breonna Taylor in the media. This week another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot and seriously injured by police in Wisconsin.

“Some people are scared to get out of their house to go for a cup of coffee, like we can do every day. It’s disgusting.” Serena Jenna
TV show showcases systemic racism

But what spurred Jenna to take action herself was an episode of The Umbrella Academy, a Netflix superhero show involving time travel.

A Black character, who was trapped in the early 1960s, experienced acts of racism while sitting in a whites-only café, she said.

“I started crying,” said Jenna, adding that she was finally realizing how long systemic racism has been going on.

Jenna starts Grade 10 next week and hopes to continue her Tuesday ritual. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

She delved into the history of the Black Lives Matter movement. She said she was seven when it started.

“How come nobody told me this?” said Jenna.

Now, she wants to inspire others to learn more about the movement and take action.

“I do hope if everybody does just a little bit, hopefully the world will change.”Serena Jenna

It’s not just a trend, she said, referring to how some people post about it on social media.

“They can put a hashtag BLM on a few posts and then it’s like, ‘OK, I’m not racist, it’s fine, moving on.’ But people are literally dying because of this.”Serena Jenna

Jenna starts Grade 10 next week. It’s part-time during the COVID-19 pandemic, so she hopes to keep up her weekly Tuesday ritual.

For the most part, she said, feedback has been positive with only two negative encounters.

“I think [Generation] Z as a whole, generally we are really fighting for this,” said Jenna.

“I’m just one person and I don’t have an influence on the world … But I do hope if everybody does just a little bit, hopefully the world will change.”

For stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read those stories here.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada’s Arctic province wants to stop relying on Ottawa police force to investigate police shootings, The Canadian Press

Finland: Police response times up to an hour slower in Arctic Finland, Yle News

Russia: Police crackdown on Putin opponent’s offices in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Film exploring racism against Sami wins big at Swedish film awards, Radio Sweden

United States: Lack of village police leads to hiring cops with criminal records in Alaska: Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Media

Kate Kyle, CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

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