ABS holds annual conference to inspire high school students

On Feb. 9 2018 The Association of Black Students hosted their thirteenth annual Beating the Odds conference for racialized high school students in the Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge area. 

The annual conference is meant to give back to the community by creating presentations and workshops that is meant to educate students about post-secondary options, self-development and motivation. 

The conference programming included breakfast, two keynote speakers: E.B Reinbergs and Dr. Majola Omole, workshops, networking panels, a hot lunch and a photo booth.

The theme of this year’s conference is “I can.” This theme is meant to allow students to gain insight on facing adversity. Sharon Blemano, chair of the Beating the Odds conference, explained that the theme relates to the motivational aspect of the conference and how students can face obstacles regardless of the barriers put in place.

“This conference is held every year to help students beat the odds, our theme this year is ‘I can’ and what we did with [the theme] is ‘I can beat the odds’ no matter what barriers you are going through, and the obstacles that you are facing,” Blemano said.

“You [may not] necessarily jump over those [barriers] but you can go through them and there are going to be trials and tribulations but the purpose is to not give up based on your race [and/or] socioeconomic status and just to keep pushing through.”

The conference was started by David Green, Wilfrid Laurier University alumni, in 2005. The conference was created in response to alarming statistics concerning students of African descent in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

“[David Green] found that there [was a significant amount] of black high school students were dropping out of high school between grade nine and 10,” Abigail Appiahenen Afriyie, president of the Laurier Association of Black Students, said. 

“Because this was such a high rate, they wanted to start the conference to motivate the black youth to continue going to high school [and then] pursu[e] post secondary.” 

“A lot of the times black students don’t really feel like they have a place on university campuses,” Appiahenen Afriyie said.

Appiahenen Afriyie explained that there is a lack of representation of black people within the university administration. This factor may contribute to students feeling discouraged when seeking post-secondary opportunities.
“I think it’s a lack of representation for the most part. Even when you look at recruitment services, not to call anyone out, but its not a very diverse selection that is going on, so sometimes when they aren’t seeing themselves in these roles they aren’t feeling like they fit in,” Appiahenen Afriyie said.
In addition to the workshops for high school students, Lauren Burrows, the education and inclusion coordinator for the Diversity and Equity Affice at the Brantford campus, hosted a workshop for the educators in the community.
Burrows explained that educators can do two things in order to support racialized students.
“I think that teachers can support racialized students by doing two levels of work,” Burrows said.

In addition to the workshops for high school students, Lauren Burrows, the education and inclusion coordinator for the Diversity and Equity Affice at the Brantford campus, hosted a workshop for the educators in the community.

Burrows explained that educators can do two things in order to support racialized students.

“I think that teachers can support racialized students by doing two levels of work,” Burrows said.      “By doing, [for] one, anti-racism work and by also doing inclusion work, which celebrates and highlights the experience of racialized students,” Burrows said.

“Also [it’s important] that you are doing the work of anti-racism in the classroom in terms of relationships.”

The main goal of the programming for Beating the Odds was to ensure that students are encouraged to share their own experiences and attend the event again in the future.

“The main goal is to attract more people to come, year-in and year-out, just so that we are making an impact and encouraging students to pursue post secondary institutions,” Blemano said.

“As participation increases popularity increases and when that increases people are really getting the message out there because they want to come here to hear something that will motivate them and feed them to last the rest of their high school careers.”

The Association of Black Students chose inspirational programming because students would be encouraged to follow their passion and pursue there dreams instead of just sticking to the status quo.

“We chose inspirational [programming] because we realized that its sometimes easier to knock yourself down ... for things, or [to] follow your parents dreams.”

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