DDSB secondary students participate in the 9th Annual And Still We Rise Conference
"No matter where you are academically, pursue excellence," says Cheryl Rock, Vice-Principal at Sinclair Secondary School and Chair of the Durham Black Educators' Network (DBEN).
Rock adds, "We want students to look at themselves as people who can lead, engage academically and socially, and pursue their best selves."
On March 4th, approximately 90 Durham District School Board (DDSB) secondary students attended the 9th Annual And Still We Rise Conference hosted at Ajax High School.
The day started off with a keynote presentation from Lincoln Alexander Estridge. He's an inspirational speaker who founded the charity, The Fight Inside Society. This not-for-profit organization is dedicated to improving access to mental health services in schools across Ontario.
Afterwards, students broke out into different workshops involving a variety of topics. Sessions included: Impact on Reality, Black Excellence, Young Talented and Black, Coloured Perception, Growing Up Black – The Impact of the Environment on the Black Psyche, and Courage and Mental Wellness.
Students participated in an exercise similar to the board game "The Game of Life" in the Impact on Reality workshop. Each student received a different 'life card' which determined how far ahead or behind they would be depending on circumstances. The purpose of the game is to point out the negative stereotypes and situations beyond one's control as a person of colour. At the end, DBEN student ambassadors told students they can only break these barriers by keeping a positive mindset, regardless of personal circumstances.
Kiara Cawker is a Grade 12 student at O'Neill CVI and DBEN student ambassador who attended the conference. "And Still We Rise is a great way to connect with like-minded people from other schools," explains Cawker. "The workshops and panels are open spaces where students feel comfortable talking about anything. It's truly an eye-opening and informative event."
After a delicious lunch, students participated in gendered panels. The female panel included Nicole Andree Vernon (Author), Nikita Holder (former Olympian), and Shiniece John (Life Coach and DDSB alumnus). The male panel included Sergeant David Palmer (DRPS), Kelvin Gumbs (owner of Black Sun Comics), and Menelek Luke (owner of Luke's Tailored Tutoring).
Students chose a panelist, and then asked questions about their work, family, friends, and overall life experiences. Rotating through panelists, students received anecdotal advice on being leaders in their school, and in their greater communities.
Rock says the purpose of the And Still We Rise conference is, "for black students to not only see themselves as leaders in their schools, but also to see themselves as leaders in their communities." She adds "they're asking, 'what can I do as a student?' but they're also looking to connect who they are as a person, their passions, and their future pathway."
The elementary edition of And Still We Rise is on April 27th at Romeo Dallaire Public School in Ajax.
DDSB students participate in an exercise to demonstrate the various societal, economic, and racial constraints in life, at the 9th Annual And Still We Rise Conference.
Nikita Holder (far right) chats with students during the female-based panel at Ajax High School.
Kelvin Gumbs (far right) talks about owning and operating Black Sun Comics during the male-based panel at Ajax High School.
Nicole Andree Vernon discusses her experience as an author at the 9th Annual And Still We Rise Conference on March 4th.