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TDSB’s Black Student Summer Leadership Program inspires youth to take on the world

TDSB’s Black Student Summer Leadership Program inspires youth to take on the world

By Hilary Caton, Communications Officer

For 95 Toronto District School Board (TDSB) students enrolled in the Black Student Summer Leadership Program (BSSLP), this was their opportunity to be inspired. Not only by the successful Black executives they met through the program, but by one another.

“The Black Student Summer Leadership Program was extremely empowering because it provided students from across the GTA with the unprecedented opportunity to engage with each other in a professional environment, accentuating our agency for success. It was an experience unlike any other,” says Elijah Aedo-Castillo, who attended as a grade 12 student and is now a first-year student at McGill University.

“All of my colleagues were ambitious, intelligent, kind, charismatic and more importantly, were able to relate to each other's experiences as Black students of the TDSB.”

Aedo-Castillo was blown away by the Black excellence he was in the presence of during his five- week placement in the program. There was such much positive Black representation, he called the whole experience “inspiring.”

Through BSSLP, self-identified Black students were matched and placed in one of the 18 for-profit and not-for-profit organizations who partnered with the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement, which is where the program is housed. The goal of the program is to build each student’s competency in the workforce and their connections to professionals in the industry.  But most importantly, it helped each student build self-confidence.

Aedo-Castillo’s work placement was with Black Excellence at York University (BE YU) a program which helps Black secondary students transition to university. His placement falls into the community development career field, which was one of six students could choose from this summer. The other five categories were skilled trades/construction technology, media and creative industries, public health, information technology and entrepreneurship or business. 

TDSB Black Graduation Coaches, like Keisha Evans, helped support students in exploring career fields, through BSSLP, where Black professionals are often systemically underrepresented. 

“Black people are often pushed into the same career path unless we have some guidance. This was an opportunity to build the students capacity in terms of who they are, how they see themselves and what they think they can do. So that they can start to see themselves in these spaces,” Evans explains.

Participating students were interviewed prior to being placed and during that process students had the opportunity to express which career path they had an interest in pursuing. But if students didn’t know where they wanted to be placed, Grad Coaches helped students decide by asking what students were good at and what career they were interested in trying.

“We’ve learned it's not because a lot of kids don't know what they're passionate about it’s about giving them an opportunity to try something they’ve never done before or never even thought of doing.”

That was the case for Grade 12 student, Huda Musa who was placed in the media advertisement agency IPG Mediabrands, but initially thought public health was where she wanted to be.  When given the opportunity to be placed in the media and creative industry category she was surprised how much she liked working in marketing and called the experience “eye-opening.”

Huda was also paired with a Black mentor who is part of the executive team and had the opportunity to have an open conversation with her about what it’s like to be a black woman in an industry that is predominantly white.

“It opened my eyes and it motivated me to go and be the first person out there and  hold a position of power in those fields, so that I can make people that look like me feel comfortable in the future,” Huda says.

Once students completed the five-week program they were tasked with presenting a final report to their peers and Graduation Coaches about their experience using Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) research methods, such as interviews and surveys.

By the end of the program, the students gathered a real sense of what it takes to succeed in the professional world and were inspired to keep pushing to achieve excellence, no matter the field. For Aedo-Castillo, his placement inspired a desire for him to create similar program for first-year Black students at McGill University that mirrors the program he was placed in because he sees the value in it.

 Both Huda and Aedo-Castillo encourage more Black students to join BSSLP in 2022.

This experience and all of the wonderful facilitators offer so much support, wisdom, motivation and encouragement, I feel extremely confident in the future of CESBA’s invaluable work to uphold our best interests, provide experiential learning opportunities and cultivate our aspirations,” says Aedo-Castillo.

“This program is really catered for your success and for your growth.”