AFRICENTRIC ALTERNATIVE SCHOOL
The Africentric Alternative School which received unprecedented public scrutiny and even ridicule when it was first presented to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is now a reality. When the proposal for an Africentric Alternative School was presented by Angela Wilson and Donna Harrow many of us in the community were pleasantly surprised because discussion and advocacy for the establishment of Africentric schools had been vigourously discussed and pursued within the African Canadian community for several decades. The community supported the establishment of the Africentric Alternative School and was taken aback by the extensive, intensive and intrusive public scrutiny. After all, this was not the first alternative school of the TDSB. It was not even the first alternative program that was established to address the concerns of a marginalized community. The First Nations School was established as an alternative school in 1977 and the Pink Triangle Program (for students who identify as gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered) in 1992 with no public hearings. The Globe and Mail (Toronto newspaper founded in 1844, ten years after slavery was abolished in Canada) ran a cartoon under the heading “Africentric Math” where they portrayed an African male with exaggerated features standing in front of a chalkboard with a math equation that was done incorrectly. The mathematics “teacher” in this offensive cartoon was speaking in what is popularly considered African American Vernacular English (AAVE) instead of “standard” English. This was an obvious attempt to ridicule those who support an Africentric education.
With the alarming 40% drop out rate of African Canadian students as a tipping point, the trustees of the TDSB voted to establish the school for the 2009 -2010 school year. A decision was made by TDSB staff to house the Africentric Alternative School in an unused wing of Sheppard Public School which was built in 1958 to accommodate 1,000 students but was down to an enrollment of less than 400. Parents who enrolled their children in the school decided that the students should wear a uniform of black pants or skirt and white top with a vest made of African fabric displaying the adinkra symbol Gye Nyame which means Except God, I fear none.
At the African centred assembly on the first day of school, students, staff, parents, community members and visitors were given a traditional welcome by drums. An elder of the community, Clem Marshall poured libation while community activist, artist and educator, Tiki Mercury Clarke, led the assembly in the singing of the Canadian National Anthem and the Black National Anthem Lift Every Voice And Sing. After the assembly, the students, accompanied by their teachers, went to their classrooms which are decorated with African fabric, including; kente cloth, adinkra cloth and various other African fabric. Each classroom also has the Nguzo Saba (seven principles of Kwanza) prominently displayed. The seven principles are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (Co-operative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). These principles will be used as the guiding principles for the school. This school is long overdue and there was much rejoicing on September 8th as the community gathered to celebrate. In spite of the negative media reports and efforts to derail its establishment, the school is off to a successful start with enrollment exceeding the expected numbers. By the end of the first day of school there were 115 students enrolled and on the second day of school, Wednesday, September 9th, parents were lined up in the admissions office waiting to register their children.