Warning: This story details racist language. Discretion is advised.
A Pickering high school is now probing several offensive comments in its 2019-2020 yearbook.
The Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB) launched an investigation, in collaboration with Durham Regional Police, in response to at least one racist comment.
Joshua Telemaque, 17, spoke to Global News on Monday. Flanked by family members and supporters, he opened up about the yearbook message he came up with to accompany his graduation photo.
“(She is) looking down on me right now, she’s my guardian angel. She will always be guiding me,” he said of his late grandmother.
Telemaque says he was hoping to thank her for her guidance.
Instead, the quote that accompanied his photograph read “Rip Harambe Dooga booga.O.”
The statement appears to reference Harambe, a gorilla that was shot and killed in a Cincinnati zoo in 2016.
On Tuesday, the school board revealed multiple unauthorized changes had been made to the yearbook.
“I cannot say enough, just how deeply sorry we are to the families that have been impacted,” said Susie Lee-Fernandes, superintendent of education for the DCDSB.
“Please know that we are doing everything we can, not just to rectify this situation, but also looking ahead to the deep work that needs to be done around equity, anti-Black racism, and discrimination in our school system.”
While Lee-Fernandes would not wade into the specifics of the investigation, she did confirm there was at least one instance of body-shaming.
According to the board, around 200 yearbooks were picked up by 2020 graduates. They were all recalled on Tuesday.
New yearbooks are expected to be distributed, however, it has not yet been determined when.
“There certainly was fault in the process, and that is something that we have committed to, and certainly are being very intentional around the process of a due investigation and finding out where the responsibility lies for this,” said Lee-Fernandes.
Joshua Telemaque’s story has received a widespread response since being shared on Facebook by his aunt.
It immediately caught the attention of York Region businessman Martin Buckingham.
“I heard the story like everyone else on social media and I was disgusted,” he told Global News.
Buckingham is also president of Giant Steps Toronto, a school and therapy centre for children with autism.
“I have a 16-year-old child myself. My employees have children. Bullying is a huge deal, and I am an autism advocate. I see this a lot in the autism community, so it really struck a chord.
He has since launched the website to raise funds that will go towards Telemaque’s post-secondary education.
The teen aspires to become a professional football player.