BY: KATHY McDONALD
It’s mind-boggling when you think that we are in the genesis of another graduation season. The provincial elections have come and gone and the province will soon swear in its 26th premier Doug Ford. History was made including the election of MPP for Brampton Central, Sara Singh as the first Indo-Caribbean female to be elected to the parliament.
Lately, I have been attending copious amounts of awards and scholarship ceremonies. I am always thrilled with the energy and excitement that emanates from the recipients. There are three common themes that resonate with all the keynote speakers. Firstly, the notion of a collective effort to ensure the success and continued success of students in their academic journey. Secondly, the debunking of the myth that an education is a great equalizer and lastly don’t ever quit on yourself.
The whole cliche about an African village and child raising are still relevant as much as we may cringe when we hear the proverb being repeated. The founder and CEO of The Kojo Institute, Kike Ojo, reminded the attendees at the Congress of Black Women Canada, Mississauga and Area chapter that “There are things we can do together that we can’t do alone… and there are things that are far too dangerous to do together, yep sometimes we have to go it alone”.
While I am passionate about the importance of an education and will go to my grave a strong advocate for education, I have to acknowledge that education is not always the great equalizer for African, Black and Caribbean children. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite. Now don’t get me wrong, let me reiterate the importance of learning and graduating. Having that piece of paper which reflects your academic achievements is a big deal. In fact, it is HUGE. However, it is often not enough. It is often not enough to conquer the systemic and institutionalized barriers and obstacles that our children often face. So, we must not only educate our children, we need to teach them how to navigate such spaces and reaffirm for them how powerful their potential is.
It was a delight to listen to Canadian Olympian Ahenawa Okuffo as she animatedly recountsher own personal journey as a decorated world-classwrestler. “Never quit on you” when things get tough don’t give up. The benefits far outweigh the negative ramifications of never reaching your full potential because you quit. I often remind the graduates during my address on behalf of the Peel District School Board that the best the world has to offer is not usually free. There is usually a price that has to be paid. The cost of academic excellence is usually hard work and perseverance. Remember to encourage the youth to see any obstacles or failures they encounter along the way as learning opportunities. Failures or disappointments can be excellent learning opportunities.
Dr.Rochelle Burgess-Reed shared while her 15% in organic chemistry did hit her hard as her first bout with failure, she did not allow it to cripple her. She simply licked her wounds and continued her journey. She may have aspired to be a medical doctor, but it was because of failures like this and other disappointments that she ended up finding her dream vocation as an assistant professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College in London. She did not settle, she discovered her true passion of advocating for mental health from a global perspective.
In my observations, I think we, as a community, don’t speak about the notion of black excellence enough, the concept of Caribbean excellence is far too often downplayed or ignored. In all my daily interactions I see sons and daughters of African, Black and Caribbean immigrants; first, second and multi-generational immigrants from the Caribbean experiencing great success. We need to debunk yet another myth, the fact that black and excellence are either mutually exclusive or students that excel are “lucky” or different. I have been told this several times and to this date,it remains one of the most offensive statements (in my humble opinion). Black excellence is not different. It is not lucky. I know many may be tempted to challenge this especially when they are inundated with negative messages from the media. Delving into the media as well as the anti-black systemic structures deeply entrenched in Canada’s institutions and the propagation of the negative stereotype of black people is another topic for another day.
Whether it’s the Celebrampton festival, the Peel Regional Police family fun day and open house, Kitefest or any of the multitudes of festivals and scholarship awards that occurredover the weekend, black excellence is everywhere. Members of the African, Black and Caribbean communities I encourage you all to encourage our youth this summer to be their best selves. Learn, work and play this summer and above all keep on dreaming. So, journey with me as we work as a collective to be the wind beneath the children in our community. Walk Good. Belle Marché!