Black empowerment seminar goes virtual for DDSB students – Durham

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It’s a seminar that would normally draw crowds of thousands of students from across the region. But this year — like so many things since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it’s a little different.

It’s called ‘The Cypher,’ a Black male empowerment series meant to help inspire young minds.

Co-chair of the event, Lynda Dortelus says after two years of having no event — they had to launch it this time.

“We didn’t want to miss that boat,” says the co-chair. “Especially with the George Floyd situation. There was no way that we could stay silent.”

The event is put together with a partnership between the Durham District School Board and the Durham Black Educators Network in an effort to help empower young Black males, giving them the tools they need to navigate the world as people of colour.

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Hosts include a number of role models and panellists like DDSB teacher Andrew Ochran.

“We are just hoping to impart that understanding that they are not stereotypes. and they don’t need to feel like stereotypes,” says Ochran.

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“They’re getting a chance to see leaders in their own community, their school board who are Black leaders and really leading the change.”

Through a series of webinars students from Grade 6-8 have a chance to really connect with key speakers in the region. But most importantly, be able to recognize how they can represent themselves.


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“They’re learning how to be allies,” says Dortelus. “They are learning how to stand up with young Black males, how to speak up, because silence is not a choice anymore.”

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The message: to break barriers and help address anti-Black racism.

It’s an important subject for students like Kymani Allen, a Grade 8 student at Cataraqui Public school.

“As a Black man, sometimes I feel like I don’t have any outlets,” says Allen. “This really made me feel like I had someone and many people just like the speakers to talk to and express myself.”

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The Grade 8 student says over the past year he’s witnessed negative coverage of Black Lives Matter protests, and continued oppression against people of colour. He says ‘The Cypher’ has helped him understand his feelings.

“I’ve been feeling down about things on social media. I’ve been feeling confused,” he says. “I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to do this’ and it was the best choice.”

The virtual seminar is open to anyone who wants to take part. Griffin Kent is a Caucasian 14-year-old football player. He says after witnessing racial tension, he wants to understand how to address it.

“If I see someone of colour being bullied by stereotypes or racial slurs … I want to learn how to deal [with] that situation and just make it easier for everybody,” he says.

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“It does empower them as well to speak up as allies,” says Dortelus.

There’s still one seminar left that will be taking place on May 26. For more information, visit the school division website at ddsb.ca


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