'It just feels blessed': TDSB finally gets to unveil Centre of Excellence for Black students

After a year of remote programming and waiting for construction to finish, Toronto's school board is finally welcoming Black students, staff and families into the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement.

Centre has been operating virtually for a year while construction was underway

A view of a painting titled Ascend Towards The Light by Robert Small. The painting will be unveiled at the opening of the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement on Monday. (Submitted by Toronto District School Board)

The Toronto District School Board says it's looking forward to the in-person unveiling of its Centre of Excellence for Black Student  Achievement on Monday — after a year of construction and remote programming.

A wing in Scarborough's Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute will be home to the mentorships, community partnerships and resources that the centre's principal says have been in high demand among staff and students.

"It just feels blessed that we've actually gotten to this point," said Karen Murray, who is also a TDSB superintendent of equity, anti-oppression and early years.

"Now, we're pivoting and trying to figure out how we're going to maintain some of the amazing experiences that online allowed us to see."

The centre, which the board says is the first of its kind in Canada, is part of its plan to dismantle anti-Black racism after years of complaints from staff, students and families. It reached a tipping point last year when the board said in its annual report that it had a "serious racism problem" and anti-Black racism exceeded all other hate incidents by far.

Murray says the ultimate goal is to educate staff and students on anti-Black racism, help affirm the identity of Black students and give them the tools to advocate for themselves when instances of racism do happen, so "they know how to engage and be responsive." 

'A sense of relief'

Angelika Bell, a Grade 9 student at a North York school, says she spends three to four hours a week in the centre's summer leadership program, and the Black girls book club for both high school and middle school cohorts.

The 15-year-old says the programming gives her the opportunity to learn new things, and helps her fight against the stereotypes often directed at Black youth.

"My reaction to seeing the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement was a sense of relief," she said.

TDSB student Angelika Bell says the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement is a good intiative for Black youth. She’ll be speaking at the centre’s physical unveiling on June 13, 2022. (Submitted by Angelika Bell)

"Having all these materials and events all in one place, easily accessible to Black students really affected me and really motivated me to apply to as many as I could."

She hopes now that there's in-person programming, all Black youth in the TDSB will still be able to take part in the centre's activities, no matter where they live. 

Long-term impact yet to be seen

Advocates say while they support the centre, its true impact is yet to be seen.

Debbie King is the co-chair of the Black Student Success Committee, a group that represents parents concerned with the well-being of Black students in Parkdale schools.

She says it's nice to see anti-Black racism awareness, training and resources move away from conceptual conversations to something more "concrete." However, the group says the key to making long-lasting positive change is how much funding the centre gets and where the resources get used.

Debbie King, a member of the Black Student Success Committee, played a key part in 2020, in raising awareness over an anonymous letter that threatened to 'rid' a TDSB school in Parkdale of Black teachers. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

CBC News asked the board how much it is spending to establish and operate the centre, but has yet to receive a reply.

"I'm equally concerned with making sure that it is sustained in a healthy way so it can continue and so it can grow," King said.

The board says doors will open for the unveiling Monday at 5:30 p.m, with the live stream beginning at 6 p.m.

Festivities begin at 6 p.m. and will run until 8 p.m. Murray says over 200 people have registered for the online stream, while  100 guests are planned for in-person.

Key speakers include TSDB leadership and storytellers, along with the unveiling of art created specifically for the centre. There will also performances by TDSB students from the Africentric Alternative School, Coco Collective and Randell Adjei, Ontario's first poet laureate, among other artists.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto who likes writing stories about labour, equity and community. She previously worked for stations in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at and on Twitter at @vanessabalintec.

With files from Kirthana Sasitharan