By RON FANFAIR
The educational achievement of Black boys will be the litmus test for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), says new Director of Education, Dr. Chris Spence.
In a powerful keynote address at the seventh annual Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) scholarship awards last Saturday night, Spence said the board will know it’s on the right path when it starts to produce great outcomes for its Black male students who lead all the negative indicators of schooling.
“There are so many concerns about our boys,” said Spence, a former JCA community worker. “They are more likely to be suspended or expelled, more likely to drop out of school, more likely to be placed in special education programs, more likely to be under-represented among school personnel and more likely to be missing from gifted and advanced placements.
“So when you see Black boys, what do you see and who do you see? Are they going to go to jail or to Yale?”
Spence painted a bleak picture of young Black males in Canada and the United States. He said that, over the last decades, six Black males enter the prison population for every Black male enrolled in college in the U.S.; one of every three African-American males is involved in the penal system and, by 2020, its predicted that nearly 65 per cent of African-American males between the ages of 20-29 will be involved in the criminal justice system.
“It’s the same here in Toronto, Ontario and Canada,” he said. “If anything is going to change, it’s going to take a community effort to really help us solve this issue. I do recognize that there is a lack of positive Black role models as principals, teachers, support staff, administrators and counselors and I pledge to you that’s one of the things that will be on my radar as the director of education.
“We are living in a fatherless world. But it’s now one of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school and that rests on a single question; does he have a man in his life to look up to? You see, a boy without a father figure is like an explorer without a map.”
Spence shared with the audience, that included former Ontario cabinet Minister Mary Anne Chambers and York Regional Police Chief Armand LaBarge, some of the things he hopes to bring to the TDSB which is Canada’s largest board of education. They include the creation of a rites of passage program similar to the Boys 2 Men initiative he started aimed at helping troubled young Black males turn their lives around, all-male academies, early career exploration opportunities and the fusion of Afro-cultural teaching pedagogy.
“I have to tell you that I am absolutely thrilled with the Africentric School and the work that needs to be done,” he added. “I think we all recognize that it’s not going to solve all the issues, but when you have a 40 per cent failure rate in your system and you keep doing the same thing over and over, you are going to get the same result. So I applaud those that have been involved and those that continue to advocate for this school.”
Spence congratulated this year’s scholarship recipients and reminded them that adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history.
“I believe we have to have a moral purpose to make a difference in the lives of the students we seek to reach and teach,” he said. “I also believe that in order for us to do that, we have to embrace learning for all…The work we do to ensure the success of each and every student really amounts to saving their lives, so we must, as a community, embrace literacy for life so that all students have the skills to listen attentively, speak persuasively, read with understanding and write with command because under-developed literacy skills are the number one reason why students are retained, assigned to special education programs and why they fail to graduate from high school.”
A former Canadian Football League running back, Spence challenged parents and the community to believe in children and students until they can believe in themselves.
A total of 28 young people were awarded almost $25,000 in academic awards. JCA president Audrey Campbell said her association is honoured to extend a helping hand to deserving students.
“At the JCA, we believe that everyone deserves an opportunity of a good education and we recognize that not everyone has the means to obtain one,” she said. “Education is a right and not a luxury.”
This year’s scholarship winners are Denisha Lowe, Djevon Earle, Kerrian Kelly-Gordon, Troy Taylor, Jeffrey McLennon, Kayan Elliott, Errol Morris, Kamal Douglas, Christina Alcena, Jodi Gregory, Aaron Bell, Kerry-Ann Poorman, Charnelle Cole, Jody Allen, Alana Stewart, Kieoni Grant-Elliott, Fitzroy Thompson and Ashleigh Thompson.
Bursaries were also presented to Monica Samuel, Joshua Harriott, Cassandra Kelly, Bria Burrows, Shanikhoa Burke, Amanda McIntosh, Marlene Gaynair, Troy Knights, Danielle Boayke and Donisha Young.
Sylvanus Thompson heads the JCA Education Committee which has presented nearly $125,000 in scholarships and bursaries since 2002.