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Black Excellence Month shines spotlight on success

Black Excellence Month 2022 at UCC is focused on awareness, says Damion Walker, a math teacher and adviser to the Upper School’s Black Excellence Society.
"We want to bring down stereotypes and show contemporary examples of Black success so people realize that not all Black stories are stories of struggle," Walker says. 

The group’s official theme for the month is Ubuntu, or "I am because we are," an African concept in which a person’s sense of self is shaped by relationships with other people. It was a guiding principle for the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who presided over that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as apartheid was dismantled.

It’s a concept that has informed the work of BES throughout the year, as well as their plans for the month. 

"We’ve been in existence for nine years now and our members work to educate their community, both through outreach and leading by example," says Sandra Fulford, a BES adviser and administrative assistant at the Upper School. "We want to offer examples to the student body of people and achievements they might not be aware of."

Year 11 student Daniel McDonald, his BES co-head Nasrudeen Oladimeji, and the other 15 members of the society organized three Upper School assemblies to celebrate Black Excellence Month. The first assembly was called Local Voices. BES members explained Black Excellence Month and showcased their musical and oratory talents.

The second assembly featured a panel of both current and former BES members answering questions about the Black experience. The group surveyed their fellow students in advance and addressed the most common questions, explaining the difference between individual and systemic racism, for example, and offering suggestions on how others can be allies to the Black community.

The closing Global Voices assembly on Feb. 25 will feature a video interview with Wes Hall, a businessman and investor on the popular Dragons’ Den Canada. Hall is also the founder and chair of the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism and the BlackNorth Initiative, committed to the removal of anti-Black systemic barriers negatively affecting the lives of Black Canadians. 

Members of BES also took part in a Prep School assembly, showcasing their talents as examples of Black excellence. Tina Jagdeo, the Prep’s pluralism coordinator, will be meeting with some Prep classes to talk about the history of Ubuntu and its potential applications to daily life.

Jagdeo and Patrice Callegaro, the pluralism coordinator at the Upper School, provided teachers with a Black Excellence Month resource guide to assist them in classroom discussions related to Black excellence and history.

Nadia Powell, an admissions associate, also contributed to the celebrations, creating a slidedeck to highlight the achievements of Black Canadians, and assisting archivist Jill Spellman with a student art exhibit. 

Meanwhile, BES members bring commitment and pride to each event they organize.

"Each of these boys has a passion for what he is doing," said Walker. "It’s not easy to speak about controversial topics, but they are always ready to put themselves out there."
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