Organizations seek input from Black students in Hamilton to improve their school experience

A Black Lives Matter rally was held in Gore Park in June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd while in police custody. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Black high school students in Hamilton are being asked to weigh in on issues like mental health and anti-Black racism for an initiative to make their school experience safer.

Organized by the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) and Hamilton Students for Justice (HS4J), the project is calling for Black students aged 13 to 19, as well as parents, siblings, guardians and other caregivers, to take part in a series of Zoom consultation sessions.

They’ll be asked for direct input on their experiences with mental health, COVID-19, racism, and other barriers to safety that they’ve faced while attending school at one of the city’s public boards.

Ahona Mehdi of HS4J, who sparked an independent review of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board after making allegations of racism and discrimination at the board during her tenure as a student trustee, said the goal of the initiative is to amplify Black voices and hear directly from Black students in the city about what kind of support they need.

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“A lot of the work and a lot of the peer-to-peer support networks that have been created are very much concentrated in the Hamilton public school board,” said Mehdi, referring to HS4J previously being named HWDSB Kids Need Help.

She said they want to hear from students at all four of Hamilton’s publicly funded boards, including the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board and the French-language schools from Conseil Scolaire Catholique MonAvenir and Conseil Scolaire Viamonde in Hamilton.

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“We’re hoping that they can all connect with each other and provide support for each other, as well as connect with us and connect with Black community organizations that can support them in any way that they need.”

The project is being funded through the Ministry of Education’s $1.43-million investment announced last month to address policies and practices that have negatively impacted Black students in Ontario.

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The results will be compiled in a report with recommendations for all four of Hamilton’s public boards.

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Kojo Damptey, executive director of the HCCI, said the onus is on all of the boards to do more to look out for Black students.

“All of them haven’t done a great job of addressing these issues, so I think it’s important that we hear from Black students, we hear from their parents and caregivers so that those recommendations are coming from them.”

“Now the accountability is placed on school boards to enact those recommendations as soon as possible so that all schools can be safe for Black students.”

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Those who are interested in registering for the consultation sessions can sign up on HS4J’s website.

All of the sessions will be held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., with student sessions on July 27, July 29, Aug. 3, Aug. 5, Aug. 10, and Aug. 12, and sessions for caregivers scheduled for Aug. 17 and Aug. 19.

Those who can’t attend the sessions are being asked to fill out a survey asking about the same issues, which will launch on Monday, Aug. 2 and close near the end of the month.

Participants in both the Zoom sessions and the survey will receive a $50 gift card to an establishment of their choice.

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