Wednesday, May 22, 2024

BWDSB Holds First Black Student Forum

We need you here.” “We are here because we care.” “We just want you to win.”

These were among the powerful key messages delivered by guest speaker Orlando Bowen to approximately 75 students from secondary schools across the region, convening for Bluewater District School Board’s (BWDSB’s) first ever Black Student Forum.

Hosted at Grey Highlands Secondary School on Tuesday, April 9, the event provided an outlet to elevate the student voice and opportunity for dialogue and sharing for those identifying as Black or a person of colour. Community partners were also on hand along with school and system level staff to help guide and participate in the day’s learning.

Orlando’s engaging and gripping presentation was filled with anecdotes detailing his resilience in the pursuit and achievement of personal goals despite obstacles and adversity. Some of these have included working with the homeless, refugee communities, and sick children, in addition to athletic aspirations. Students also heard about a traumatic incident from Orlando’s past when undercover police officers wrongly targeted, assaulted, and arrested him. While the officers were held accountable for their actions and Orlando acquitted, it was a harsh lesson in the discrimination and injustices that people of colour continue to face and must overcome.

As the founder of the youth leadership organization, One Voice One Team, Orlando encouraged the students to think about their impact on the lives of others and choose to become difference-makers.

There is no us and them. Otherwise, we all lose.” Orlando’s overall message was one steeped in unity and the adoption of a big picture perspective.

The forum also enabled a series of breakout sessions, with students forming small groups for discussions on topics such as dealing with subtle racism and microaggressions, handling racial slurs, and others pertinent to their lived experiences. Students were asked to share their thinking and feedback with Orlando at the end of the day through a designated web link.

Board staff look forward to reviewing the information and student feedback gathered through this event to further inform and support school and system level efforts in the areas of equity and inclusion for Black students in BWDSB.

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