It would take more than a winter storm to keep a group of enthusiastic students from Westview Centennial Secondary School from attending class. The Grade 9 through 12 students travelled from Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood during the Feb. 27 snowstorm to audit a lecture in the humanities called “Cultures of Resistance in the Americas: The African American Experience,” taught by Professors Andrea Davis (Chair, Department of Humanities and co-ordinator of the Black Canadian Studies Certificate) and Andrea Medovarski (assistant professor in the Department of Humanities). The class, which examines concepts of Blackness as it relates to the African diaspora, draws from literature, popular culture, history and political thought. For many of the students, it was their first taste at higher learning.
The students are part of Success Beyond Limits, a youth-based organizations with a mentorship program designed to improve the educational success of youth in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood. The organization also runs an after-school program and connects students with diverse opportunities and experiences.
Deshawntae Dale is a SBL student at Westview Centennial in North York, Ont. She was surprised by the class, and said, “I thought it’d be longer and more boring.” The lecture, which discussed the social repercussions of the adultification of Black men, resonated with Dale. As for many of the participants, the content hit close to home.
“This is something I’d want to learn more about, especially feeling it and living it every day,” said Dale.
This is the second year organizers from Success Beyond Limits have arranged for students to attend the “Cultures of Resistance” lecture. Clearly a success, of the 10 participants last year, six are now York University students. Four are enrolled in the course.
Darren Aning is a graduate of Success Beyond Limits and now a first-year York University student in the Bachelor of Education program. He attributes his decision to attend York to his experience last year.
“To learn different aspects about things you might not have known before was an amazing experience and made me realize that there is a lot on offer at university, specifically York,” said Aning. He plans to give back to his community by becoming a teacher.
Program manager Shanaz Ali says it’s never too early to introduce the students to the possibility of higher learning and the opportunities that a university education might afford them. Participants in the campus visit ranged in age from 15 to 18.
“Everything that we do at SBL is about exposure and expanding the possibilities and outcomes for our youth. We want our youth to start thinking about their future in post-secondary whether it be in Grade 9 or 12. We want to expose our youth to a university setting in hopes that one day they can be future students and to also break down the barrier of post-secondary at a younger age,” said Ali, adding that the program helps to expose youth to a university setting in hopes that one day they can be future students.
This initiative is an extension of the Success Beyond Limits (SBL) summer program that is hosted at York University during the summer months. The SBL six-week summer program offers credits, mentorship, youth employment, enrichment, nutrition, engagement, graduation and relationship building.