Students celebrated for excellence in the classroom and community
June 1, 2017
Though painful, Sudz Sutherland never allowed the obstacles and rejections he faced in high school to define him as a failure.
When he didn’t make the cut the first time he auditioned for the drama club in Grade 10, the award-winning director & screenwriter wrote his own play, ‘Coming of Age in Suburbia’, cast himself as the lead and presented it to a schoolmate who he considered to be an excellent director.
“When he told me it was pretty good for a Black play, I made up my mind that I was going to be a director,” Sutherland, a former Share photographer, told York Region District School Board elementary students and high school graduates at the annual Alliance of Educators for Black Students (AEBS) student awards ceremony at Richmond Green Secondary School last week.
The play, with a multiracial cast of performers including Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, was presented at the Sears Ontario Drama Festival for high school students and Sutherland won a special award for writing excellence.
“After presenting the award to me, the chair of the board of directors pulled me aside and impressed upon me that I should continue to write,” Sutherland, who started writing in Grade One on his mother’s portable typewriter, said. “I cannot tell you how much that encouraged me and meant to a kid from Scarborough who just needed a little support.”
The success with the play, which performed at high schools, drama festivals and summer camps across southwest Ontario, prompted Sutherland to opt to study drama at York University.
His guidance counsellor, however, had another idea.
“Though my marks were stellar and I did advanced courses, he wanted me to go to a trade school,” said Sutherland who was in Woburn Collegiate Institute’s gifted program. “When I let him know that I thought I was good enough to go to university, he left me know that I would never make. This was coming from the man who I needed encouragement from and advice about my future.”
The high school valedictorian completed film studies at the post-secondary level, started a production company – Hungry Eyes Film & Television Inc. – with his wife, Jennifer Holness, 24 years ago and has won three Canadian Screen Awards for directing and directed two feature films.
Sutherland wrote and directed the CTV-aired movie, ‘Doomstown’ that won three Gemini awards, including best director in a dramatic program and best television movie and the epic CBC prime time mini-series, ‘Guns’, which was recognized with the best director and best writing Gemini awards.
Four years ago, Hungry Eyes Film & Televisionand award-winning game developer XMG Studio collaborated to release the unique mobile application (app), the Mu$ic Biz, which is a cutting edge mobile game app that bridges the hip hop music world with the gaming universe.
Sutherland told the students that he’s successful because he didn’t believe the story that the guidance counsellor – who is now taking credit for encouraging him – was telling him about himself.
“You will encounter people in your life, some of whom might be your teachers, who will tell you stories that have nothing to do with you,” he said. “They believe in something about the group that they perceive that you belong to. You have to be aware of this and just figure out for yourself what excellence looks like…There were a lot of people in my high school that were infected with the virus and this idea that Black people could be excellent in athletics, but not in academics. I didn’t believe that because that is what my parents taught me.”
A total of 121 elementary and secondary school students were recognized at the celebration that honours excellence in the classroom and community.
Richmond Hill High School graduate Adam Linton, who was the recipient of a Black Foundation of Community Networks scholarship, said the recognition proves that the community cares about young people working hard and striving to be the best they can.
“I now have to go a step further and show them they did the right thing by putting their faith in me and the other young people here today,” said the former student council member and rugby player who is enrolled in the University of Waterloo. “This award will give me an extra boost to do that.”
Last year, Delia Harriott Award winner Tsahai Carter was among 16 outstanding Canadian youth community leaders who earned a place in the United States Department of State youth ambassadors program.
After a one-day orientation at the U.S embassy in Ottawa, the group travelled to Plattsburg in New York where they spent 12 days doing interactive workshops. They also visited Hyde Park and were in Washington for five days before returning home to implement service projects in their schools and communities.
“That was such an enriching and amazing experience,” said Carter who graduates from Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School and is enrolled in the University of Ottawa political science program. “I secured new leadership skills that I am now able to apply in projects that I undertake.”
Harriott is a former provincial government employee who supports women’s empowerment through education.
Bill Crothers Secondary School graduate Quincy Banfield was the recipient of the Donna Cardoza Award.
Cardoza established the Nubian Book Club a decade ago which uses literacy as a tool for enhancing leadership and social skills, community engagement, respectful peer relationships and overall student success.
“To get this award is extra special because it’s coming from someone who is interested in education and young people aspiring for excellence,” said Banfield, the son of YRDSB administrator Camille Logan.
With an interest in urban sustainability, Banfield – who played rugby and the alto sax in high school – will pursue environmental studies at either Ryerson or York University.
A winner of the Vilma Cornelius Founders Award, Jade Nevins aspires to be a movie director.
“If that doesn’t work out, I will do something in marketing,” said the Pierre Elliott High School graduate whose next educational stop is the University of Windsor.
A retired YRDSB vice-principal, Cornelius was instrumental in starting the AEBS awards ceremony in 1998.
It sounds strange when Canadian-born Jahkeem Bennett says he experienced culture shock when he returned home in 2015 after a 15-year absence.
The teenager was raised in Luxembourg – a small rural European country -- by his mother and step-father.
“Luxembourg is a small country with about half a million people,” said the Pierre Elliott High School graduate. “There are so many more people here and Canada is very diverse as opposed to where I came from.”
Also fluent in German, French and Luxembourgish which was established in law in 1984 as the national language, Bennett – who is enrolled at George Brown College –plans to be an event manager.
Cecil Roach, the YRDSB coordinating superintendent of equity and community services and an AEBS co-founder, said the awards have high value.
“These awards, which highlight the success of students of African heritage, are grounded in the Ministry of Education’s view that equity doesn’t mean treating everyone the same,” he said. “Most educators know of the disheartening narrative of the chronic and persistent underachievement of students of African heritage. The awards are about intentionally interrupting this narrative that because they are of African heritage, success is not for them. They are destroying the stereotype that high academic achievement is not in their DNA.”
Kathi Wallace, the YRDSB interim director, attended the awards for the first time.
She told the students to take pride in being honoured for their accomplishments.
“You have demonstrated high achievement, perseverance and a passion for learning,” she said.