Celebrating Black Excellence At Crescent

What is Black Excellence? And how can Crescent School foster it?

Guest speakers and Crescent’s Black Student Alliance brought these questions to the forefront for Black History Month in February 2021. Conversations about Black Excellence took place throughout February in classroom activities, Mentor groups and in a book discussion group for staff and faculty organized by Crescent’s Diversity PLC (Professional Learning Community).

“Black Excellence is when we as young Black men or young Black women get the opportunity to overcome the stereotypical barriers that limit us from achieving our full potential,” said Grade 12 student Kai Gairey. “We’re intelligent, we’re strong, we’re capable of achieving things just like anyone else in this world. When it comes to defining our own uniqueness, that’s what defines Black Excellence.”

Gairey spoke in a panel discussion by Crescent’s Black Student Alliance, which was recorded and presented at student assemblies to launch Black History Month in early February.

Crescent faculty and Upper School students also heard from guest speaker Dr. Joseph Nelson. Nelson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Studies of Swarthmore College, and works with teachers throughout North America to help them understand how to overcome the stereotypes that hold boys – particularly Black boys – back in the educational system.

“It requires an intentional commitment to make our schools and communities places where Black boys feel like they belong,” said Nelson in his Zoom presentation to Crescent faculty. The key to this work, he said, is building genuine relationships with boys that see beyond stereotypes and assumptions.

“Relationships are an imaginative window into who boys are and what is possible in their classroom,” said Nelson.

For Kimberley Rampersad, a Canadian theatre artist and Associate Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, “we all have a part to play in the story of Black Excellence.” Speaking via Zoom at the student assemblies, she addressed her remarks specifically to the Black students present. Rampersad said that excellence is a habit built through talent and discipline, and she encouraged students to “write their own story about Black Excellence” and to do it joyfully.

“It is not sustainable to feel you need to be excellent to prove people wrong,” Rampersad said. “Be excellent because of who you are.”

Rampersad also spoke about how schools can support Black Excellence. Teachers need to prepare Black students to be the heroes of their own stories, providing them with leadership opportunities, she said, while other students can actively support them and recognize that Black Excellence lifts up everyone. (Her presentation was made possible by the Noble-Marks Endowment Fund supporting music and arts education at Crescent.)

Black Excellence was the focus of the inaugural podcast episode produced by the Crescent Centre for Boys’ Education (CCBE). Released on February 24, the episode features a discussion with two Grade 12 students from Crescent: Head Boy Tega Ajise and Assembly Prefect Caleb McLeod, and alumnus Dan Pringle ’05, who chairs the Crescent Alumni Diversity Committee.

“In all my years at Crescent, the amount of discussion I’ve had about race, about faith, about people’s sexuality, really shows that students are able to have those discussions, are mature in those discussions and can be respectful of each other,” said Grade 12 student Caleb McLeod, a member of the Black Student Alliance. “When you can do all those things, you’re going to facilitate a place where people can understand each other.”
 
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