By Nicole Geoges
Despite Herculean challenges, the inaugural kindergarten class of the Toronto’s first Africentric Alternative School, crossed the podium and proudly received their Grade 8 completion certificates on June 21; it was a historic moment for students, and also for the institution that was dismissed by high profile detractors as segregationist from its inception. The graduates are the first cohort of students to have had their entire elementary school education in an africentric environment.
Amongst the schools most notable critics was former Ontario Premiere Dalton McGuinty, who famously declared that an alternative Africentric focused school would not happen in Ontario, “on my watch”. Mc Guinty expressed his disappointment in the Toronto District School Board for narrowly voting to establish the school, and vowed it would not be publicly funded.
Advocates for the school and senior officer of the Black Action Defense Committee, Kingsley Gilliam, says critics like McGuinty, missed the big picture. “There was a study (Royal Commission on Learning) that came out around that time, that showed that 40 per cent of Black and indigenous students were dropping out, or being pushed out of schools. Here we had this tragic thing happening in our community, and Dr. George Dei of OISE suggested setting up school with an africentric focus to address it.”
However the idea of an africentric school sparked contentious debate both within and outside the Black community. Gilliam says he remembers the media frenzy, and the accusations of segregation. “The school was established in the midst of a fiercely hostile environment. But I’ve always said that any business that loses 40 per cent of its stock in trade is out of business in 2 years, so how could school boards still be operating with that dropout rates? They needed to review their methodologies and rigid structures that were preventing these students, black and indigenous kids, from succeeding. “
During the first two years of the school’s operations, it outperformed all other schools in the province-wide EQAO Examinations. Current Principal Luther Brown says this year’s graduates demonstrate the leadership qualities their teachers have worked so hard to instil in them, “These students take over the running of the clubs and programs. They excel academically and some are going on to gifted programs.” Brown says he hopes the School will continue to provide the type of education that gives experiences within the student’s culture. “It’s an amazing place to teach and to learn, and we aim to help students excel with an appreciation for their culture, heritage and race.”
As the school celebrates its 10th year anniversary, community advocate Gilliam says there are lessons our society can learn from the process: “The vehement opposition that was displayed by the intelligentsia, politicians and media, is now gone. They were dead wrong; we need to be open to new paradigms and new ideas. Despite all the hurdles the school continues to thrive.”
The School held its gala and Graduation ceremonies at the JCA Centre, in a room decorated with afrocentric art work by the students including uniquely designed table center pieces. Guests were serenaded with steel pan, student drumming corps and dance troupes of present students and alumni.
#Africentric Alternative School #Luther Brown #Caribbean Drumming # Caribbean Children