Award ceremony shows Black students as high achievers

Award ceremony shows Black students as high achievers

June 7, 2018

As the eldest of three siblings, Drew McFayden was counted on to show leadership.

The Grade 12 student delivered at home and at Bur Oak Secondary School where she started social justice and gender empowerment clubs and was a student focus committee member.

McFayden was honoured with a Vilma Cornelius Founders Award at the Alliance of Educators for Black Students (AEBS) annual ceremony for York Region District School Board (YRDSB) elementary students and high school graduates.

A proud Julie McFayden accompanied her daughter to the celebration on May 14 at Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School.

“Drew is a hard worker with a high moral compass,” said the marketing & communications leader. “She has a big heart and will do anything to support those that are less fortunate.”

McFayden plans to pursue psychological and neurological science studies at either McMaster or York universities.

Thornlea Secondary School graduate Reannah Ennis was the other recipient of the Vilma Cornelius Award.

Ennis was among 10 students from her school who went to France in April 2017 for the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge considered Canada’s most celebrated military triumph.

A retired YRDSB vice-principal, Cornelius was instrumental in starting the AEBS awards ceremony in 1998.

With his parents and a cousin being medical professionals, Markham High School Grade 12 student Mohamed Ahmed didn’t have to look outside his family for role models.

Mohamed Ahmed

Mohamed Ahmed

He plans to pursue medical studies in England or Ireland because high school graduates don’t have to spend four years on a pre-med track. Medical degrees in Europe combine undergraduate and postgraduate work and take about five to six years.

Born in Saudi Arabia to Sudanese parents, Ahmed and his family came to Canada eight years ago.

His father, Adil Saeed, is a cardiologist while his mother, Manal Ahmed, is a medical doctor. They are working in Saudi Arabia after being unable to secure licenses to practice in Canada.

“I remember seeing my dad coming home at nights tired, but happy with the work he is doing,” said Ahmed whose cousin, Faisal Hamour, is a heart surgeon in Niagara Falls. “That really motivated me to follow his path. Though high school wasn’t challenging, I made a lot of friends who I will miss as I move on to the next phase of my life.”

Ahmed and Ashley Addo, a Grade 12 student at Alexander Mackenzie High School, were recipients of Donna Cardoza bursaries.

Ashley Addo

Ashley Addo

A member of her school’s vocal program and bible study group, Addo will attend York University to study health sciences.

She plans to become a nurse or health care administrator.

Cardoza established the Nubian Book Club 11 years ago which uses literacy as a tool for enhancing leadership and social skills, community engagement, respectful peer relationships and overall student success.

Tanisha Bates and Calia Palmer, graduates of Langstaff and Vaughan Secondary Schools, were awarded Paul DeLyon bursaries.

Bullied in elementary school, Palmer relished high school and is set to enter the University of Ottawa.

Calia Palmer

Calia Palmer

“Coming in to high school, I was insecure and scared,” she said. “With support from my peers, teachers and parents, I was able to overcome those hurdles. I am in a better place now and ready to take on the world.”

Palmer is enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Commerce (Option in International Management) program.

DeLyon is an AEBS co-founder.

Unionville High School student Alexis Murrell, who sang the national anthem at the awards ceremony, was presented with the Delia Harriott Award that goes to a female graduate who has provided leadership and mentorship and averaged above 80 per cent.

Alexis Murrell

Alexis Murrell

She plays the piano, guitar and ukulele and is a member of her school’s dramatic arts program.

Murrell enters Ryerson University in September to pursue English studies.

Harriot is a former provincial government employee who supports women’s empowerment through education.

Milliken High School graduate Shamar Brown, who is enrolled in Centennial College’s television & broadcasting program, was recognized for his active engagement.

The aspiring talk show host interviewed national sprint champion Andre DeGrasse and was a member of a program that teaches young people about local watersheds and engages them in civic projects to improve their health.

Shamar Brown

Shamar Brown

“Shamar showed exemplary character throughout high school,” said principal Alex Corry who accompanied the student to the ceremony. “We have watched him grow as a young man academically, socially and emotionally.”

Black Foundation of Community Network Awards were presented to Haben Dawit of Emily Carr Secondary School and Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School graduate Oluwatitomi Adebajo.

A total of 98 elementary and secondary school students were recognized at the celebration that honours excellence at school and in the community.

Cecil Roach, the YRDSB co-ordinating superintendent, reminded AEBS that the work they are doing is valuable.

“The awards are grounded in the Ministry of Education’s view that equity doesn’t mean treating everyone the same,” he said. “When you work to support students that have been traditionally marginalized, this is good work. It is good work for educators committed to the success and well-being of all students and it’s good work on the part of the board. Most educators know the disheartening narrative of the chronic and persistent underachievement of students of African heritage. What we are doing tonight is challenging that narrative that success is not for them. It is about destroying the stereotype that higher education achievement is not in their DNA. As teachers in the York Region District School Board, we absolutely refuse to accept the underachievement of any identifiable group of students as normal.”

Keynote speaker Jeff Martin was ecstatic to be selected to participate in the celebration.

Jeff Martin

Jeff Martin

The York Regional Police officer, however, reminded the high school graduates that they haven’t reached their destination.

“Human beings, sometimes after they find success, tend to become complacent,” he said. “High school is a journey.”

Raised in Rexdale, Martin was inspired to become a cop after an encounter with a Black Toronto police officer nearly 15 years ago.

“I was pulled over and my immediate reaction was, ‘Here we go again’,” he recalled. “I figured I was going to be harassed as I was before in previous encounters with White officers.”

Waiting to present his driver’s license, insurance and ownership, Martin was surprised when he saw the officer was Black.

“Too add to that surprise, the first words out of his mouth was, ‘Brethren, Why ya drive so fast’?” Martin recounted. “That was refreshing because it was the first time I had not only had an encounter with a Black cop, but someone who spoke the way I could understand them. That was a huge deal because every other officer had come across like a robot.”

Two weeks after graduating from the Ontario Police College, Martin’s cousin – Omar McLeod – was fatally gunned down outside the Phoenix night club in August 2005.

“We were very close,” he said. “When Omar arrived from Jamaica, he stayed with my family. He was like a little brother. I taught him how to play basketball, speak to women and operate in the Canadian environment. Losing him is of one of the most heart-wrenching things I have had to endure, but it made me stronger and very determined to go into the community and try to positively impact young people.”

Three years ago, Martin co-founded ‘Brothas from the Six’ to provide young Black men with positive role models.

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