We Rise Together

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BY KATHY MCDONALD 

We Rise Together: The Peel District School Board’s Action Plan to Support Black Students was officially approved on October 27th 2016. The document was produced by the Peel District School Board and is by all accounts a bold and progressive document. The action plan has four key goals. They are: to integrate the experiences of Black Canadians into the curriculum, deliver bias-free and anti-racism professional development, engage with the community and inspire Black students leadership and engagement. It has empowered Black teachers, in fact all employees to name the problem. It has given voice to Black students. Most importantly, this document has brought forward a concrete plan to remedy the Black student experience in the PDSB. This document does not mean that the quest for equity and inclusion for the Black and Caribbean community in the PDSB is over. Our journey is just beginning.

The Board has made a commitment to addressing the myriad of factors in the education system that are negatively impacting our Black students. The verdict is in and it is loud and clear. Black males stated how disenfranchised and disillusioned they are with the state of the education system. The feelings of lack of respect, low expectations and the foregone conclusion that Black males cannot excel in university was brought to the forefront. It would be remiss if I did not state that the majority of PDSB employees are dedicated professionals. However, it is those bad apples that are spoiling the bunch that we need to eradicate because too many of our youth are suffering needlessly at the hands of these few.

Believe me when I say I understand that the Black and Caribbean community is researched, surveyed, focused grouped and analyzed out. However, this is the first step in a long journey. Timelines will be given and will be met. Even though the focus groups were high school male students whose documented experiences and feelings are being used to help guide solutions for a kindergarten to grade twelve coed school system and that the parent’s voice or staff’s voice were not directly included we must forge ahead. The document contains specific aims, activities, short-term and long-term outcomes. This is a living document and it will be constantly tweaked and improved as the process unfolds. The community will be consulted as the board seeks to remedy the Black youth experience in the educational system. In the end the Black youth experience will improve.

Many members of the Black and Caribbean community did not respond with the enthusiasm that I expected. There is a sense of “well we knew this twenty years ago, make that forty years ago”. However, to the cynics out there I declare that today is the first day of the future. We need to move forward with unbridled passion to make a real and significant change that will positively impact our children for generations to come. Things will not change overnight but by having the leaderships of the PDSB take ownership for the lack of equity and inclusion of the Black and Caribbean community is the beginning of the end. The end of systemic biases, the end of low expectations, the end of stereotyping as being unacceptable in theory but not in reality. Will this happen overnight? NO. It is going to take years to reverse decades of systemic racial discrimination, years of zero to low expectations and years of demoralizing behaviors to change. “Nuh ting good cum easy” IT WILL TAKE TIME. A Black man in 2008 was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America. This historical achievement was possible because decades before a man dared to dream, a woman took a stand on a bus and people marched, rioted and died for basic civil rights.

The community needs to be vigilant and stay engaged and actively monitor the process, the timelines and hold us as a board accountable. Parents need to get engaged, learn how to advocate for your children and make their education priority number one. I always say that if the government closed all barber shops and hairdressing parlors or even dared to cancel Caribana, the Black and the Caribbean community would protest in record numbers. We need this mind set when it comes to our children’s education. Students, I would encourage you to continue to work hard and strive to be the best that you can be. Let no one derail your dreams. Be bold and confident. Seek and find a mentor, an adult or a teacher that can guide you through your educational journey. If you are unable to do so contact your local Trustee and ask for guidance and direction so may you truly rise above all obstacles as you reach your destination. Walk Good, Belle Marché.

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