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Westview Centennial student aims to fight stigma around Jane-Finch schools

Henrietta Obeng is a member of a student advisory council run by Toronto District School Board trustee Tiffany Ford.

HERstory in Black: The Next Generation profiles 7 young black women making a mark in their communities

Henrietta Obeng is a grade 12 student at Westview Collegiate. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

Henrietta Obeng is a student at Westview Centennial school who says she is well aware of the negative stereotypes around the schools in her Jane and Finch community.

"We talked about rumours and stereotypes about our school," Obeng explained.

"Some people perceive our school as kinda like...the ghetto school and stuff like that so we kinda need to end those stereotypes and tell them that our school is not like that."

​Obeng decided to join local school board trustee Tiffany Ford's student advisory council. Ford is a former Westview Centennial student herself. 

The committee is led by a group of students who attend monthly meetings to discuss concerns and ideas about the community.

Recently, Obeng herself raised the issue of more accessible seating for different body types in classrooms. 

The Grade 12 students says the seating in her school still uses chairs that are attached to desks that only cater to specific body types. 

Henrietta Obeng, right, describes the seating and desks at Westview Centennial as "discriminating" and does not cater to different body types. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

"I know not everyone is small enough to fit in one of those chairs," Obeng explained.

"It's kind of discriminating in a sense, because if a bigger person, or even a disabled person were to come and sit in those chairs they wouldn't be able to."

Trustee Ford says there's now a plan in place to start replacing those desks.

Henrietta Obeng is a Grade 12 student who plans to pursue social work after graduating high school after being inspired by the novel April Raintree. 4:25

High school novel inspires career path

Obeng's passion for advocacy goes beyond the work she's done with the Student Achievement Advisory Committee.

She plans to pursue social work after graduating high school. Her inspiration came from reading the novel, April Raintree.

It tells the story of an Indigenous girl named April Raintree, who along with her sister, was taken from their family and placed in separate foster homes.

The story describes the abuse she faced.

Henrietta Obeng is a member of the Black Student Achievement Advisory Committee run by Toronto District School Board trustee Tiffany Ford. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

"Any time her social worker would come she would tell the social worker what was happening, but the social worker wouldn't believe her," Obeng described of the novel.

It's a story that has stayed with Obeng.

"It's more than just helping people, but like bettering other people and helping them with their family situation," she said.

"There are a lot of kids at home that are going through abuse, neglect and isolation everyday so that's what made me want to become a social worker."

Obeng is quick to share words of encouragement with fellow high school students - especially young black women.

"There's a lot of stereotypes of being a black female," she said.

"Don't follow the stereotypes and do what you want. And don't let anybody bring you down."