This teacher had his students send letters to a Toronto mosque — and reading them will give you hope
'This is your home. You are welcomed and you are supported,' 16-year-old writes
Sam Pisani abandoned a lecture on Confucius he'd scheduled for Monday morning — he realized his Grade 11 students could learn more by reflecting on the fallout of the mass shooting that killed six inside a Quebec City mosque Sunday night.
- Hundreds crowd U of T campus to honour those killed at Quebec City mosque
- Quebec City mosque shooting victims include businessman, professor and fathers of young children
Instead, they taught him about the depth of their empathy. Their compassion. And about the quiet wisdom they've amassed growing up in Canada's most multicultural city.
Pisani asked if his students would each write a letter that he could deliver to a local mosque. There would be no marks for the assignment, but at the end of the school day there were notes from all 17 students.
"I would like apologize for all the people who allow fear and judgment to blind them from seeing that regardless of race or beliefs, we are all human," a letter, scrawled in blue ink by a 16-year-old, reads. "This is your home. You are welcomed and you are supported."
Pisani delivered them to the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre, a mosque near Bloor and Dufferin streets.
That delivery marked one of the bright spots of Ilyas Ally's afternoon. The assistant imam at the mosque said he left his home that morning feeling overwhelmed, tempered only when he arrived to find flowers circling three words on the doorstep of his house of worship.
"Muslims welcome here," he said, repeating the sign that greeted him.
The notes from the students have had the same effect — and he plans to share them with the community, an emblem of the support of the city's young residents.
"It's really reassuring that kids these days care about what's happening and they're responding to it in a really positive way," he said. "I was amazed that this even happened."
He said he was struck by the eloquence of the students.
"I would like to apologize for such hatred and I hope you understand that I am here to support and offer my condolences," a student who identified themselves as a Hindu wrote. "I hope that you never have to feel scared or threatened."
Ally has already shared several of the message on the mosque's Facebook page, but he wants to display them in the case that's visible on Bloor.
"I feel like this tragedy gives us an opportunity to build bridges and strengthen our community," he said.
'A chance to shine'
It's that display case that actually made Pisani decide where to deliver the letters. He used to teach near the mosque and, while he'd never been inside, he said he remembers reading notices in the case facing the street.
He said he'll be proud to see his students add to this public discussion.
"I know a lot gets spoken about the next generation and what they'll do and what they won't do for us, but ... you really just need to give students a chance to shine," he said. "Kids will surprise you. I mean, they surprised me — and I thought I'd seen it all."