Durham students awarded for brilliance

Durham students awarded for brilliance

May 25, 2017

At around the same time that Lincoln Alexander was preparing to take over as chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation at the turn of the century, husband and wife Gilbert and Valerie Estridge were readying to welcome their third child into the world.

As soon as Reverend Estridge found out it was a boy, he chose the names ‘Lincoln Alexander’.

His wife of 28 years didn’t object.

“Lincoln overcame hurdles to accomplish many firsts,” said Kittitian-born Estridge who migrated 40 years ago. “He was obviously a very determined man who never allowed anything to prevent him from achieving greatness. That was the benchmark that I wanted my son to reach and sustain.”

Alexander, Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament and federal cabinet minister and Ontario’s first Black Lieutenant Governor, passed away five years ago at 90.

The Grade 12 student met the trailblazer in 2008 when he visited Lincoln Alexander Public School in Ajax.

“I remember that day well,” said young Estridge who was a Grade Four student at Cadarackque Public School. “Mr. Alexander spoke to me and told me to follow my dream.”

Alexander’s wife, Marni Alexander, told the teenager the same thing at her husband’s funeral in Hamilton.

“I took the day off from work and I took my son out of school that day and dressed him real well,” said Estridge who is the senior pastor at Durham West Worship Centre. “I felt it was important that he should be there to say goodbye to the person who he was named after. While we were in the line waiting our turn to pay our respects, Marni – who was greeting well-wishers – got tired and had to go into a room to rest. A gentleman came up to me and asked why I had brought my son and when I gave him the reason, he went and retrieved Marni. She told my son to follow his dream, further his education and be the best he could be as that was what ‘Linc’ would have wanted.”

The other three Estridge children first names begin with ‘A’.

“Those are the grades they are expected to get,” said the family patriarch. “I believe in setting the bar high.”

Aaron and Alicia are enrolled at the University of Toronto while the youngest, Anthony, is a Grade Nine student.

As for Lincoln Alexander Estridge, he is known as ‘Alex’ to family and friends.

The Anderson Collegiate Institute graduate was recently recognized with the inaugural Black Community Rise to Excellence Scholarship (BCRES) at the Durham Black Educators Network (DBEN) fifth annual Activating Student Success Awards ceremony at Pineridge Secondary School in Pickering.

The $1,000 scholarship was created to encourage Black male students to strive for excellence.

“To be the first recipient is an honour and I will prove that I am deserving of this award,” said Estridge, a professional actor and singer/songwriter who aspires to be a chemical engineer.

The third Mark Joel scholarship was presented to Ajax High School Grade 12 student Shaneese Schloss who will pursue post-secondary studies at York University. The Durham District School Board (DDSB) superintendent retired three years ago after 35 years in public education.

Shaneese Schloss

Shaneese Schloss

A member of her school’s Improv Club, concert band and student council, the honour roll student plans to work with young people with Down syndrome and autism.

Her older brother, Terique Schloss, has autism.

Awards were presented to elementary students and high school graduates for their leadership in school and the community. Selected by their teachers or administrators, the students’ nominations were reviewed by a selection committee comprising educators and community members. Of the 19 nominations, eight were chosen as this year’s award recipients.

The Grade 12 Award winners were Ajax High School students Alyssa Walters and Peter Gray, Pickering High School graduate Adanna Taylor and Cerene Carby of Maxwell Heights Secondary School.

Peter Gray, Alyssa Walters, Cerene Carby & Adanna Taylor

Peter Gray, Alyssa Walters, Cerene Carby & Adanna Taylor

Walters, a member of her school’s leadership and student councils, will pursue criminology studies at the University of Ottawa while Gray, who is well respected by his peers, coaches and the teaching staff, plans to become a personal trainer or physiotherapist.

Actively involved in the vocal music and theatre program at her school, Taylor has her sights set on becoming a nurse and philanthropist. A few months ago, she started Crimson Wings which is an organization dedicated to raising funds to help homeless females.

Carby, who advocates for social change, aspires to be a paediatrician.

Westney Heights Public School students Tomi Ogunekun and Shannelle Tallow-Barnes, Cassandra John-Whittingham of Michaelle Jean Public School and Jeanna Sauvé Public School student Olivia Downes were the elementary school winners.

Shannelle Tallow-Barnes (l), Olivia Downes, Cassandra John-Whittingham & Tomi Ogunekun

Shannelle Tallow-Barnes (l), Olivia Downes, Cassandra John-Whittingham & Tomi Ogunekun

When administrators were looking for name for a single track French Immersion school in Durham, Downes -- who was enrolled at Seneca Trail in Oshawa – put up her hand up to be part of the selection committee.

“She was Canada’s first female governor general and quite an accomplished woman,” said Downes who aspires to be an actor.

In the keynote address, Dr. Philip Howard told the students that their academic excellence means they have managed to grow ‘as roses through concrete’.

Dr. Philip Howard

Dr. Philip Howard

“Celebrate that even as you realize that the reasons that there aren’t more roses like yourselves around you is less because they don’t have the potential and more because simply the concrete which they never should have had to face in the first place has just proved so far a little too tough or that they didn’t happen to be cracks in the concrete where they were growing,” the McGill University associate professor pointed out. “…Continue to work hard and shine, but you can’t afford to be happy, to be successful alone or to be part of the successful few. Don’t allow yourself to be singled out as the successful few and don’t allow your success to distract from the broader dismal conditions that exist and need to be changed.”

He reminded the students they are standing on the shoulders of giants who made huge sacrifices and they have an obligation to give back. 

“Don’t make the tragic mistake that so many have to believe that this has been about your hard work and that only,” said Howard who was a co-investigator on a project examining the Africentric Alternative School in Toronto. “Remember you owe a debt to those who have made the cracks in the concrete when you were growing. Remember that your success has been made possible by those who have struggled and fought before you and who are struggling and fighting alongside you. 

“Your success, like the success of any of us, is the fruit of a determined community effort from that of your families and community who support and cheer you and to organizations like the DBEN that are convinced of your brilliance and insist that it be recognized and back to those who fought historically for your right to be educated and done so in non-segregated schools. Many of the people who have contributed to your success are no longer alive or are far away. The only way to repay this debt to them is to pay it forward and ensure that the struggle doesn’t end with you.”

A founding DBEN member, Howard commended the current executive for continuing to recognize Black students and educators who have beaten the odds in challenging the climate for Black persons across the nation as well as for its work in supporting and speaking up for larger numbers of Black students and educators who daily struggle against the odds and desperately seek ways to survive and be affirmed in a context where they are obliged to continuously assert that Black lives matter.

“Educational and professional excellence for us is not about what we can prove about ourselves,” he noted. “Rather, it’s about transformative work. As such, our focus is partly on promoting excellence within existing structures. And this is important because it encourages us to continue to work and to have hope against the odds. But it’s not just about this. It is also about challenging those structures and changing those odds. 

"Our work isn’t focused on creating dedicated Black spaces within an unjust set of structures. It is about fostering the dialogue and action that exposes and transforms those structures. So here I emphasize and celebrate the important work that we do on a daily basis, understanding that our work isn’t complete until everyone is assured of justice within our systems.”



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