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2010: Auto-segregation, not multiculturalism or… interculturalism

Students celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday
Published On Tue, 19 Jan 2010

A grade one class from the Africentric school perform a poem in honour of Martin Luther King Jr. The Toronto Africentric Alternative School celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. day with an assembly.
Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star
Louise Brown
Education Reporter

There were earnest tributes to Martin Luther King Jr. and a moving clip from “I Have a Dream” — with two thumping Michael Jackson hits to spice up the program.

At Canada’s only public Africentric alternative school, students celebrated King’s birthday Monday with the children of Sheppard Public School, with whom they have shared a building since opening last fall.

“If Martin Luther King Day isn’t an occasion for both schools to celebrate together, what is?” asked school trustee James Pasternak, a champion of the unusual program designed to help battle a high dropout rate among black students.

Before a sea of Africentric vests mixed with the blue T-shirts of Sheppard, a young Africentric dance group performed Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” followed by Grade 4 and 5 students from Sheppard singing his hit “Black or White.”

“I like this school because we learn about people who did important stuff so we can live the way we do today,” said 9-year-old Ayinde Skerritt-Williams, a Grade 4 student at the Africentric school.

He is one of 130 children from junior kindergarten to Grade 5 in the alternative program housed in an unused wing of Sheppard. There is a waiting list of 50 more and the school is scrambling to find a place for the Grade 6 class it will add this fall.

Principal Thando Hyman-Aman is poised to hire more teachers this month; one for music and one for students with special needs. An active parent council helped raise $1,000 for more culturally inclusive books and the Grade 4/5 class has launched a penny drive for the children affected by the earthquake in Haiti.

Meanwhile, the Grade 1s are learning media literacy by comparing the new Disney movie The Princess and the Frog — which features a black princess — to other versions of the folk tale from around the world.

“We’re infusing the Ontario curriculum with Africentric experiences and values; it’s the theme of African History Month all-year round,” said Hyman-Aman. The school will focus on math and science in February, the official African History Month, by learning about African inventors, meeting local scientists and playing African math games such as Owari and Mancala.

Longtime activist Charles Roach spoke to the students of King’s vision and unveiled a framed portrait of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, before teaching them a little song he wrong about freeing the world from bigotry.

“It’s heartwarming to see the school up and running; it took a long time to convince people it wasn’t the same as segregation.”

“My son runs around singing songs about Kwanzaa (a celebration of African heritage) and he asked me today who shot Martin Luther King,” said Holness, who also organizes after-school programs in science, choir, homework, African drumming and cricket, among others.

“If anything, I think he’ll go into the world with a stronger sense of his culture and be able to integrate — and educate — even better.”

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