Concerned that a large percentage of Black students were failing, Donna Harrow and Angela Wilson asked the Toronto District School Board to consider opening an Africentric school as an alternative to reach those students before they fell through the cracks.
After years of wrangling and heated debates, trustees voted 11-9 in favour of the school that opened just over a year ago.
The controversy and debate surrounding the establishment of Canada’s first state-funded Africentric School is captured in a new film, Our School, which premiered last Sunday at the fifth annual Commffest Global Community Film Festival at the Rainbow Cinemas.
The 54-minute film was written, produced and directed by Toronto-born Aaron Weiss.
“Originally, when I first heard about the school, I had a visceral reaction thinking this is a ridiculous idea for a multicultural city,” he said. “At the same time, I thought it was important to research the subject and once I did that, I saw it as very multi-layered. You have schools for gays and lesbians and for Aboriginals and other marginalized groups.
“The important thing to remember in this whole argument is that 60 per cent is doing well and in some instances exceeding expectations. But for the 40 per cent that are not, they deserve the same opportunity.”
Weiss said Harrow was hesitant when he first contacted her with the idea about two-and-a-half years ago.
“I had to overcome some of her reluctance because the media hasn’t always treated the community with fairness and here is someone from outside the community coming in with this proposal,” he said. “That was understandable because my mom is a World War II survivor and if someone from outside my community came and said I wanted to do a story on her, I am sure their heart would be in the right place, but how are they going to understand.”
Weiss said he felt so strongly about the project that he invested his $15,000 savings into it.
“I did not go through the grant process because that would have taken time and I wanted to capture the emotions as this story was developing,” he said. “That’s why it was important for me to make that investment.”
Our School first screening outside Canada will be at the South Africa International Film Festival in KwaZulu, Natal from November 1-5.
This is Weiss’ first feature film. Three years ago, he released a documentary –Blood, Guts and No Glory – that allowed wrestlers to speak their minds. It aired on ESPN.
The COMMFFEST festival focuses on social justice and community issues.