Young, Black and Phenomenal: MPP Jill Andrew inspired by Linden students’ spoken word poetry
Jill Andrew, MPP, Toronto–St. Paul's
(This article was written before the killing of George Floyd and other recent incidents of anti-black violence, and ensuing outcry by local and global communities through protests and demonstrations demanding change. It illustrates several facets of Linden’s ongoing commitment to anti-black racism and anti-oppression: weaving social justice into aspects of our curriculum, creating a safe space for students who identify as racialized, and forging partnerships with highly effective black role models. We do not do this solely in response to tragic events, or because it is Black History Month. We show up and engage in the difficult, messy work associated with effecting meaningful change that can be uncomfortable for those with privilege. We continue to commit to self-reflection, learning and improvement, recognizing that our work is ever-evolving and as diverse as we are.)
While Linden is no stranger to creative and unusual clubs, “THE Club” launched by Tonja Armstrong-MacInnis this year is an ambitious standout. Tonja’s lifelong commitment to equity spurred her to create a club to support students who identify as racialized.
“My hope was that this club would reflect Linden's mission around inclusivity,” said Tonja. ”We meet in a small group setting and share ideas of the world and current events that students want to discuss.”
Since THE Club launched, they have had discussions about identity and discussed topics that surround beauty, hair, and body image. They looked at how race, gender, and class affect one’s socialized view of themselves and the “other” (no small feat to tackle during the lunch time sessions). In meetings, there were often uplifting connections being made as the students gave options and views on the topics at hand. THE Club members shared their voice with the school community with quotes of inspirational people in their lives during Greetings.
The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop THE Club members from following through on a meeting that was set prior with Jill Andrew, MPP for Toronto St Paul’s, the first black and queer person to be elected to the Ontario Legislature, and a member of the NDP Black Caucus, the first of its kind in the province. On May 21st, they welcomed the honourable MPP to a special Zoom meeting. Jill was treated to Naomi MacDonald’s rendition of her original poem, Why the Delay?, which she created for her grade 6 class’s unit on spoken word poetry.
Jill was so captivated by the students and by Naomi’s work that she stayed on longer than planned, even though that meant arriving late for her NDP caucus meeting!
“What we have just heard is a fantastic critical analysis of the circumstances that exist for so many people of African diasporic descent,” said Jill. “May you continue to be bold, deliberate and uncompromising with your words. I can think of many adults in my own party and our governing party who need to hear and acknowledge your wisdom, way beyond your years.”
“You addressed anti-black racism as a systemic issue,” she continued. “You’ve raised criticism of the stereotypical depictions of black people and other racialized groups. You touched on xenophobia and anti-asian racism that has swelled due to COVID-19.”
“The crux of your poem is, ‘why are we still dealing with this today?’ That is the question that I ask all the time.”
Jill described Naomi as ‘an amazing rock star — young, black and phenomenal’, and paid tribute to Tonja for creating a ‘sacred space’ for students who identify as racialized. She encouraged all of THE Club members to aim high, take up space, use their voices, and not to be afraid of ruffling feathers.
“We were especially delighted by Jill’s enthusiasm to return and spend more time with us,” said Tonja.
Here’s to a long and powerful collaboration. You can hear more from Jill Andrew when she addresses our graduates at Celebration to Greet the Summer on June 11th.