Posted on October 3, 2017

Summit on Barriers Faced by Black Male Students Comes to Toronto

Andrea Gordon, Toronto Star, October 2, 2017

Black students in Toronto drop out of school more often than their white peers, face significantly more suspensions, and are more than twice as likely to be streamed into applied level courses in early high school.

Amid mounting concern about those documented trends, a global summit is taking place in Toronto this week to address what organizers describe as common barriers around the world, particularly for Black males.

The “stark reality” of lower academic achievement transcends borders and calls for shared strategies between countries, says Jerlando Jackson, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and chair of the International Colloquium on Black Males in Education.

The sixth annual summit for researchers, policymakers, parents and students is being held in Toronto because it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world with a large immigrant population, said Jackson, who is also director of his university’s equity and inclusion laboratory.

“We saw it as a unique place to unpack the divergent experiences from a global perspective.”

The four-day event, previously held in such locations as England, Jamaica and Atlanta, includes workshops for students interested in pursuing post-secondary or graduate school and covers topics ranging from recruitment of diverse male teachers and mentorship to redesigning curriculum to engage Black youth and strategies for reducing suspensions and boosting graduation rates.

The gathering, in downtown Toronto, comes on the heels of major initiatives aimed at supporting Black students from the province and several school boards.

Last month, the Ontario government announced it will require all school boards to collect race-based data aimed at identifying and addressing racial disparities and announced plans to end academic streaming in Grade 9, which disproportionately affects Black students.

The Toronto District School Board, the only board that regularly collects race-based data, has also committed to anti-racism training for all staff and administrators. The Peel District School Board has similar moves underway as part of an action plan to address challenges faced by Black students.

The summit on Black males “is very timely, given what’s happened here,” says Warren Salmon, president of the Ontario Alliance for Black School Educators, a local organizer for the event.

York University professor Carl James, a leading researcher who has tracked data and experiences of Black youth in the GTA, will be one of the keynote speakers.

So will Michael Coteau, Ontario minister of children and youth services and one of the first people to push for race-based statistics as a way to document the reality for minority populations when he was a trustee at the TDSB more than a decade ago.

“This is not a local issue. It’s an international issue. It’s something we need to collaborate on in order to advance the outcomes of Black males in our society,” Coteau said in an interview.

“There are so many issues that are similar, and it doesn’t matter where you go.”

During the past decade, 160 youth under 21 have been murdered in Toronto — and most were Black males, Coteau said.

And, as in the U.S. and other countries, Black men face higher rates of unemployment, even when they have post-secondary degrees, more poverty and lower life expectancy.

The roots of the summit go back to 2009 when Jackson and co-founder James Moore of Ohio State University participated in an international study into academic underachievement of boys compared to girls.

What they also discovered were consistent gaps and systemic barriers for Black male students “no matter where in the world it was, whether it was London or Detroit,” says Jackson.

They observed that experts and residents alike tend to view the problems as specific to their own countries “until they start hearing the discussion and then it opens their eyes, as it opened our eyes.”

Toronto activist and teacher Nigel Barriffe says the issues are important, but in order to have a lasting impact discussions need to include a large contingent of grassroots organizers who can take the strategies and try to make a difference in their communities.

It’s important “for all voices to be heard,” said Barriffe, adding he would have liked to have seen more local sponsors such as school boards or community agencies involved.

Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, was one of several local advocates contacted by the Star who was unable to attend the event because of demands at the beginning of a school year.