By Lincoln DePradine
Veteran University of Toronto educator, Dr George Dei, has suggested that mentoring should be part of the program offering at the newly launched “Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement’’ of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).
The centre, described as one of TDSB’s responses to dismantling anti-Black racism within the school board, will employ staff that will include a social worker and child and youth counsellor to help students.
“Our community is about mentorship, so that we are there for each other, holding each other’s back. That is something that I want the centre to be focusing on,’’ Dei said on Tuesday at an online celebratory launch of the Centre of Excellence.
“I need to be mentored just as I mentor my students,’’ said Dei, a professor of social justice education and director of U of T’s Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Professor Dei said Afro-centric teaching should be “front and centre’’ at the newly setup TDSB institution, as well as engaging “African elders’’ to interact with students.
“We do have African elders who have a large body of knowledge, wisdom, that can be very, very useful to the education of our youth,’’ said Dei, who was part of a panel of speakers at the launch.
The school board said it approved establishing the Centre of Excellence after “extensive community consultation which surfaced systemic barriers that are experienced by many TDSB students and disproportionately impeded the academic success of Black students’’.
At the Centre of Excellence, “there will be enhanced support for impacted individuals and a forum to develop solutions that are authentic and relevant for Black students, families and staff’’, TDSB officials have promised.
The centre’s mandate includes a commitment to “create professional learning in anti-Black racism and collaborate with other staff in facilitating learning in decolonization, Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression and human rights, recognizing the similarities and intersections of various forms of oppression;’’ and to “identify, develop and facilitate culturally responsive and relevant healing practices for groups of students’’.
The goal of the school board is “to provide equitable and inclusive education in safe and welcoming spaces’’, said TDSB chairman Alexander Brown.
“The TDSB is committed to supporting and celebrating the uniqueness and diversity of all students and staff,’’ he added. “The centre is the first of its kind in public education in Canada. It was approved by the board about a year ago to dismantle anti-Black racism within the school board and to improve both the experiences and outcomes for Black students. The centre will also be responsive to the voices of Black communities, families and individuals who have consistently advocated for deeper systemic change in the TDSB.’’
TDSB ought to be applauded for establishing the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement, said Dr Carl James, a York University professor.
“We have to compliment the Toronto District School Board leadership for having the foresight to be able to do this,’’ said James, who also is the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora in the Faculty of Education at York.
“The Toronto Board has now said, ‘yes, we’re doing something different in order to be able to respond to the situation of Black students’. So, I’m hoping that other boards will follow the lead that the Toronto District Board is setting.’’