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Conference serves to empower local black students

Patrice Barnes, vice-chair of the Durham District School Board board of trustees speaks to students at the second annual Black Male Empowerment Conference. (Photo courtesy of Durham District School Board)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Hundreds of Black male students and leaders in the local Black community recently joined together in the name of empowerment.

The Cypher: Black Male Empowerment Conference was held at Durham College on May 24.

This is the second year for the conference with the Durham District School Board (DDSB), the Durham Black Educators’ Network and Durham College working collaboratively as hosts.

With a mandate of engaging and empowering Black male students, the conference provided an opportunity to network and learn about career pathways, employment opportunities, and positive transitions.

Students attended a number of workshops headed by community members including former NFL and CFL player Karim Grant, Aaron Cheddie, a senior manager with TD Bank, spoken word artist Yao “Tuggstar” Togobo, and Durham Region Police Service Cst. Dale Swift.

“We’ve brought in community role models, all Black males from different sectors. So to see them reflected in a number of spaces and an academic setting like this is powerful,” says Eleanor McIntosh, an administrative officer for DDSB.

McIntosh says these workshops focus on promoting self-confidence, and as the name suggests, empowerment to the students.

“Excellence is a big focus of the conference…[showing the students that] you can do anything and the pathways they can take,” McIntosh says.

The keynote speaker for the event was Ian Brown, a youth speaker and comedian, who has delivered presentations to thousands of students across Ontario.

McIntosh says the first conference in 2017 was a way to gauge the level of interest.

“Last year was a rousing success. We had about 250 young men from all the elementary and secondary schools in the region,” McIntosh said.

Roy Cousins, principal at Cadarackque Public School in Ajax, was involved with similar events in other school boards.

“I’ve seen the positive impact in my former boards in terms of inspiring youth and being a positive environment, so seeing it done here is amazing,” he said.

Patrice Barnes, vice-chair of the DDSB board of trustees, urged the students to strive to reach their full potential.

“As we stand here and we tell you about how amazing you are and the great potentials you have, it will not matter unless you decide that the future is not defined,” Barnes says.

“Stop letting other people speak for you. Stop embracing what the stereotypes are…We are more than thugs. We are more than sports stars.”

She also encouraged them to embrace who they are, regardless of their situations.

“You can change your circumstances, you can change how you look at stuff, and you can change what you want to achieve, but you cannot not be Black. Blackness is who you are. Blackness is your power,” she says. “We define art, we define music, we define style, but you have to embrace your power and you have to embrace your strength.”