African-Canadian students inspired to follow their dreams, thanks to new program

A new African Canadian Cultural Experience program at Catholic Central High School is inspiring young African-Canadian students to look to post-secondary education as viable option for the future, and pursue their dreams in Canada.

'We're hoping to expose our students to a wide variety of experiences so they know that there's opportunity'

Students taking part in the African Canadian Cultural Experience program. (Melissa Nakhavoly/CBC)

Sara Kayumbi was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her family moved to Windsor in 2013 and she began attending Catholic Central High School, but admits it was a hard and lonely transition.

"I didn't have any African friends. I was so alone I was lost. But as time passed by I started making new friends," said Kayumbi.

The grade 12 student is now enrolled in the African Canadian Cultural Experience program and said she feels at home. It's a new program initiated by Catholic Central's principal, Danielle Desjardins-Koloff and vice-principal, Michael Naicker, to inspire students of African descent to follow their dreams.

"We're hoping to expose our students to a wide variety of experiences so they know that there's an opportunity waiting for them outside. But most importantly we want to bring to light that equality and diversity is part of the culture. We want them to feel accepted and belonged to Canada," said Naicker.

I want to make the change. I want to help these kids change their lives.- Mehari Hagos, activist and speaker

Students get together once a week to speak about their goals and aspirations. The vice-principal has taken the students to St. Clair College to give them a better look at what life after high school can look like.

"Sometimes the students may form the trap of 'I can't do it.' They need that motivation," explained Naicker.

African Canadian Cultural Experience students listening to community activist Mehari Hagos. (Melissa Nakhavoly/CBC)

Naicker also brought in former Catholic Central student and now community activist Mehari Hagos.

It makes me feel like I can do it too because he's from the same neighbourhood I'm from,- Daut Said, grade 11 student

Hagos spoke to students about his personal struggles growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood, hanging out with the wrong crowds and being able to find the motivation within himself to break free from a negative lifestyle. 

"I want to make the change. I want to help these kids change their lives. I know how it is growing up in a rough neighbourhood and what it takes to change," said Hagos.

Mehari Hagos speaks to the students about his own personal experiences, hoping to show them that they have options. (Melissa Nakhavoly/CBC)

Hagos is a fitness trainer and runs a teen boot camp out of Waterworld in downtown Windsor. Many of the students in ACCE also attend that program.

"I want them to know that they can do anything they want to do. We took them on a St. Clair trip, we'll be taking them on a university trip just to show them just because you grew up in the Glengarry neighbourhood or just because you grew up in the projects it doesn't mean you have to say there," said Hagos.

Feeling inspired

Many of the students say they feel inspired by Hagos.

Grade 11 student Daut Said is also enrolled in the program and said after listening to Hagos he feels like he can achieve his goal of working in the sports industry.

Grade 11 student Daut Said is enrolled in the program and said it's been inspiring for him. (Melissa Nakhavoly/CBC)

"It makes me feel like I can do it too because he's from the same neighbourhood I'm from so when he talks about his success and all the things he did I believe that I can do it as well," said Said.

Vice-principal Naicker will be bringing in a group from Toronto called Harmony Movement to speak to the students this spring. The organization provides an interactive program that challenges discrimination, bullying and helps build a positive school climate.