For Immediate Release, Feb 13th, 2020, HAMILTON, ON
On Wednesday, February 12th, 2020, students of Bernie Custis Secondary School walked out of classes to protest the school board pausing the Black Youth Mentorship Program.
We are writing this press release to clarify the context in which this HWDSB-initiated pause has arisen.
The Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) was invited to be part of a conversation at Sir John A. Macdonald regarding police presence at the school. The discussion took place on December 17th, 2018 and was attended by the principal of Sir John A. MacDonald, the school social worker, eighteen high school students who self-identified as belonging to the Black community, and Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) staff. This dialogue occurred because of a tweet shared by the HWDSB Kids Need Help Coalition, which questioned the meaning behind the presence of police at Sir John A. MacDonald.
Within this conversation, Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) staff acted within their capacity as engaged community members to take notes and keep a record of discussions, concerns, and questions brought forward around issues with police in the school. This conversation and the resulting notes were not a form of research. Furthermore, this discussion was not associated with the Black Youth Mentorship Program; HCCI staff were invited as representatives of HCCI who have fostered connections with the students and as members of the Black community with whom youth could identify, not specifically as a function of their role within the Black Youth Mentorship Program.
On February 4th, 2020, the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI), on behalf of the HWDSB Kids Need Help coalition, released a report titled A Consultation Report on Racism, Islamophobia, and Discrimination in Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) Schools. This report was predominantly a compilation of work that students within Hamilton, including the HWDSB Kids Need Help coalition, have created in their independent work over the past 3 years.
HCCI’s contribution to this report was two-fold:
- Providing these students with organizational support in compiling work that they had previously created;
- Supplementing the student’s work with additional examples displaying the presence of police in schools.
The HWDSB has stated that HCCI has violated the Memorandum of Understanding for the Black Youth Mentorship Program by releasing research within this report. However:
- The examples that HCCI contributed to this report were not a product of research. Rather, these examples were concerns and issues that had been raised by students within the December 17th, 2018 discussion that HCCI staff were invited to as community support and kept record via taking notes;
- HCCI staff were invited to the conversation, not specifically as a function of their role with the Black Youth Mentorship Program, but as representatives of HCCI who have fostered connections with the students.
It is also important to note that no confidential information about students was shared by HCCI in this report.
This report was released at a press conference on February 4th, 2020. HCCI provided logistical support, safety training, and space to debrief at the request of the HWDSB Kids Need Help coalition, who requested such support in order to avoid reprisal from the school board. Staff at HCCI agreed to support them in sharing their stories around racism and Islamophobia in the school board. The HWDSB Kids Need Help coalition decided to run this press conference after 4 years of private conversations with HWDSB resulting in no meaningful action and ongoing racism within the school.
We stand in solidarity with the HWDSB Kids Need Help coalition and their decision to run this press conference. We are also concerned about the conflation of the HWDSB Kids Need Help coalition and the Black Youth Mentorship Program at Bernie Custis High School.
The Black Youth Mentorship Program is a program led by HCCI at the HWDSB Bernie Custis High School, meant to support and build leadership and life skills for Black youth in interactive group sessions. We feel it is important to clarify that the Black Youth Mentorship Program and the HWDSB Kids Need Help coalition are separate entities. The HWDSB Kids Need Help coalition is made up of past and present students from Sir John A. MacDonald, Westmount High School, Westdale High School, and Bernie Custis High School. We believe that any conflation of this group with the Black Youth Mentorship Program undermines youth-led efforts to illuminate and seek support on issues of racism and Islamophobia that youth brought up at this press conference.
The HWDSB has indicated an interest in continuing the Black Youth Mentorship Program and seeing our next session continue on February 27th at Bernie Custis Secondary School. HCCI staff look forward to meeting with the HWDSB on the confirmed date of February 18th, 2020 to resolve any outstanding issues.
Please Note: Contacting HCCI Governing Council members or staff outside of office hours does not adhere to the communication policy or protocol of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI). Furthermore, any communication relating to these issues must be followed up directly with Executive Director, Kojo Damptey, at firstname.lastname@example.org.