Reflections: A Call to Action.

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As I reflect on the academic year that was I am reminded of the numerous examples of the magnificent initiatives that the PDSB as well as other Boards in the province of Ontario are engaged in. However, I also think of the “unpleasantries” and am inspired not discouraged. I think it is these setbacks, negative experiences and colossal screw ups that are often the impetus that moves us forward. Sometimes we don’t move forward unless a circumstance forces us to move forward. Even the recent senseless execution of two black males at the hands of US law enforcement resonated with me and has strengthened my resolve to make a difference before such acts become common place in Canadian law enforcement.

As 2016 is unfolding and more than half way through it is appearing that Ontario is moving towards another year /summer of the gun. I would like to urge all members of the Caribbean and black community to come together and advocated for change. I think the vehicle that we need to fully explore to thwart this cancer in our society is education. We need to rise up and get educated and as Bob Marley said” Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery”. We need to make the change from within. Ontario is poised to do this. We have a Black Minister of Education. We have several Black and Caribbean nationals on School Boards across the province, not to mention teachers, senior administration and community leaders. We need to engage these individuals and let our voices be heard.

Parents, educate yourself about your rights as parents, educate yourself and learn about the myriad of programs and resources available to help your children succeed. Learn how to navigate the educational system.  AVOCATE, ADVOCATE, ADVOCATE for your children and demand that the Boards are being inclusive and equitable. If your child, a bright Canadian born descendant of Guyanese nationals is “accidentally “placed in ESL you have options. You do not have to accept this. If a teacher tells your child they “are dumb because they are black” you have recourse. If you have a special needs child this is not a source of embarrassment. Accept it and get access to all the help available. Accessing the plethora of support for your child is not a shameful act, it’s not an admission of weakness. It does not reflect on you as a parent. Access these programs and resources in place to help your child to succeed. I know many successful people with learning disabilities who have gone on to amazing and satisfying careers. Do not be defined by a label. You may have to make accommodations or work twice as hard but do it any way.

If you don’t know to access the appropriate resources, ask your Principal or Trustee for guidance. Find an ally in the education system, reach out to neighbors, friends, community services and network. It is not okay for anyone to bully your child. IT IS NEVER OKAY. If a teacher pushes your child into her locker this is not okay because the teacher will soon retire.  Go into the schools and advocate for your child. Guidance counselors do not have the final say you do; you know your child, you were their first teacher. Do not accept any limits on your child if you know they are capable. Be honest with your child and encourage them to work to the best of their ability. Do not settle for second best.  NEVER SETTLE FOR SECOND BEST.

I have approached previous Ministers of Education about the status of children from the Caribbean and Black community and I was rebuffed by a “They are on the radar”. Well it’s time to get our community off the radar and onto the agenda. But it won’t happen by hoping and wishing. We need to act. Stop talking in the kitchen or at the hairdresser, move these conversations mainstream. Come together, organize and let our community have a voice. Who will take up my challenge? There is power in numbers. I urge several community groups to come together, unite and demand accountability and change for our children. Various other ethnic groups, and marginalized groups are doing this. We need to start yesterday as we have a crisis looming that is seeing an unprecedented number of our children being marginalized. Email me your ideas and thoughts, call me, let us work together for change.

I attended the funeral of a PDSB student that was tragically killed one day after his high school graduation. It was one of the saddest events I attended during my tenure as a Trustee. It is not easy watching a family say farewell to someone so young, so full of promise.

In my role it is disheartening to see bright and vibrant members of my community underachieving. Did you know that there is a Sci-Tech program in the PDSB? Currently, one of the schools I represent host this program and there are classes with not one individual Black student in this program? Are Black parents applying to these programs? Are Black parents aware of these programs? Are Black students being screened out?

These are difficult conversations we need to have unless you believe that Black students cannot excel in a Sci-Tech Program. When was the last have you explored your school board’s website? Parents, this is a journey I would encourage you to take this summer. So Walk Good. Belle Marché

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