Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) student Leilani wanted to share some of her reflections from participation in recent Black Excellence program events, organized by the Rhythm & Blues Cambridge community group.

Leilani shared her thoughts about her lived experiences and perceptions about how events and activities, such as Black Excellence events, help to bring students together and create inclusive school communities that celebrate Black joy.

By Leilani, a WRDSB student

We need to understand that we are amazing. We are beautiful, Black is beautiful, and we should never forget that. As a Black student with very little Black community, I felt very alone and not able to connect with the Black students at my school. Before this program started, I would notice Black students but not really know who they were. I would say a simple “hi,” but there was no connection or click.

When you see someone your race or similarly like you, race or not, there is an automatic click. When you have that click, which is kind of like a jumpstart, you can build a connection, and after a connection, you start a relationship. I found it easier to talk to other races, but other races don’t relate as much as my own race and that could make me forget that I am a strong Black independent woman.

A student looks off-camera with a smile on his face.

I didn’t connect with lots of Black students until this program. This program brings Black students together to unify them and to make them feel all at home. For the past few sessions of this program, I have felt connected with my Black roots by being surrounded by other students like me. As I talked to these people, I connected with people who were similar to me. Many times if Black students are not careful, we could lose our backgrounds and our Black identity of who we are. But these kinds of programs help us connect to Black heritage and build each other up.

At these events, we learn about Black people who changed the world, cooking, different African identities and the range of Black identities, their music, their culture, language, and many different ways of coming together, including self-worth as a Black individual. This program really helped unify Black students at school and made them proud to be Black.

Trustee Raedlin enjoys a laugh with two students at a table in a library.

Many times in my Black journey I would get lots of passive-aggressive comments about the way I looked. That made me very upset about myself, like why I couldn’t change myself for others. But now I can relate with lots of other Black students because they probably had the same challenges as me, and it makes me feel less alone.

Now when we stand together as Black individuals and remind ourselves that Black is amazing and that no one can steal our pride and joy, then we find that we would be much happier in our lives, and as the famous Janelle Monet says, “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”

About Black Excellence

Leilani sorts through a pile of flags during the Black Excellence event.

Black Excellence is a five to seven-week in-school program, organized by the Rhythm & Blues Cambridge community group, where African, Black, Caribbean identifying (ABCi) students can connect with other ABCi students to share, express, engage and interact in powerful and meaningful ways while learning about their roots, culture and heritage, and also understand how Black Canadian history is Canadian history. The program brings together ABCi students from Clemens Mill Public School, Preston High School and Galt Collegiate Institute in a safe space where they are encouraged, educated and elevated.

Each week, a different theme is covered. The students have the opportunity to hear and learn about our Canadian Black History, see examples of Black Excellence from around the world, share and express their thoughts about the theme, engage in meaningful activities that exemplify the theme and discuss ways to integrate the theme into their daily life, school and beyond the classroom into their community.

#StudentVoice Series

This article is written by a WRDSB student and is part of the Student Agency and Voice program. Student journalists embody WRDSB’s commitment to creating space for students to tell their stories. They are ambassadors for their peers as they share their personal experiences and stories about their schools and communities in their unique voices.