Pickering student targeted by racism

Joshua Telemaque

After a Black student at a Roman Catholic school in Pickering, Ontario discovered that his yearbook tribute to his grandmother was replaced with a racist slur, nine more students  at the school have reported that their submitted quotations were also tampered with.

Durham police have been interviewing faculty and students at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School after student Joshua Telemaque’s yearbook entry — which was supposed to read “RIP Grandma. Thank you for guiding me through my four years of high school” — was changed to “RIP Harambe Dooga booga.O.”

Harambe refers to a gorilla that was killed at a Cincinnati, Ohio, zoo in 2016.

The nine other students who complained that the quotations in the yearbook were also  tampered with are reported to be a mix of female and male students from various cultural backgrounds. In one case there were inappropriate references  to a female student’s body image and a male student was criticised for his grades.

In a letter sent to students and staff, dated Sunday, Oct. 11 last,  St. Mary principal Susan Duane said the school was “horrified to discover that inappropriate comments were unknowingly published.”

She noted that ” these comments were malicious, hurtful and racist in nature. These comments are not a reflection of our mission, vision or values as a Catholic learning environment.”

“We sincerely apologize to the school community for the offensive, hurtful and unacceptable nature of these comments,” she added.

The school  has ordered students to return their 2019-2020  yearbooks and said a full inventory would take place to make sure every copy is accounted for.

Telemaque said he first learned of the tampered tribute to his grandmother by a friend.

“As soon as I saw it, I started breaking down because I knew what I put there was going to be something where I left my imprint,” he said.

Speaking of  his special bond with his late grandmother, he said, “(she is) looking down on me right now. She’s my guardian angel. She will always be guiding me,” he said, calling her a positive figure in his life.

“She was always there for me … I want to show her I’m living my life through her.”

Telemaque said this was the first time he personally experienced overt anti-Black racism, but that he was often bullied  and heard stories of how others were affected.

News of the changes to Telemaque’s yearbook entry sparked widespread condemnation as well as an outpouring of love and support.

Marva Telemaque, Joshua’s mother, said she and her family have lived in Pickering for the past 10 years and  ” I have invested a lifetime of love and energy into raising my sons.

“I will not allow someone’s prank to derail his mental health, growth and development, “she added.

“People from all over the world have come together to support him. We have a lot to be thankful for,” she said.

Joshua called the support he has received “amazing,”

 On his 18th birthday last week he was presented with a four-year scholarship from Pinball Clemons and the Toronto Argonauts.

The scholarship is for any university of Telemaque’s choosing.

He also received last week an 18th birthday certificate from Ajax Council.

” Our community stands with him, and we condemn the racist act that occurred, ” said Ajax Mayor  Shaun Collier.

Joshua, who was an athlete throughout his time in high school, is now attending prep school for football. He said he would like ” to turn pro”.

He said he is also  thinking about studying fire prevention engineering as a potential second career.

“I’m going to get there and nothing is going to stop me,”  he  added.

His supporters have set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign  to raise money for his post-secondary education.