Aaron Parry, second from right, is joined at the Lincoln Alexander Awards by Josephine Moretuzzo, left, Chair of Guidance at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School; Ontario Lt. Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, and Blessed Trinity teacher Antonio Gambale. Photo courtesy Niagara Catholic District School Board

Student finds his passion in social justice, ethnic minority issues

  • March 31, 2018

His teacher describes Aaron Parry as a “gentle soul,” but no one could ever accuse him of lacking passion.

The first-year McMaster University student from Grimsby, Ont., has amassed a long list of credits on social justice issues over the last few years, work that earned him recognition from the province last month as one of the winners of the Lincoln Alexander Awards. The award, which honours work towards promoting race and and social equality, comes with a $5,000 scholarship.

“It feels amazing to be honoured like this,” said Parry, who graduated from Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Grimsby last year.

“It is a privilege to be given this award because it honours the groundbreaking social change created by Lincoln Alexander, who was the first black member of Parliament. It’s not only going to help with my education, it has inspired me to continue with my work so I can create change for the better within the wider Canadian community,” he said in a statement from the Niagara Catholic board.

Parry was nominated by his Grade 11 Law teacher, Tony Gambale, who described his former student as quiet and diligent, and one who let his work speak for him. However, when they began a unit on Indigenous issues and residential schools, Parry became more outspoken.

“He slowly started to open up over the semester and his work just emanated. It was unbelievable,” said Gambale. “From there, he ran for student council. The principal and I selected him for the Indigenous Equity representative. It was an opportunity for him to be a voice for the voiceless and he did an astounding job.”

As Equity Representative, Parry was responsible for organizing events for marginalized groups, including Orange Shirt Day for Indigenous people, Black History Month and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. He designed t-shirts, created a short video and conducted daily morning announcements during Black History Month. With friend Alexandra Bugarija, he also co-founded Social Justice League, a student-led club for Canadian-centric social justice issues. 

“I wanted to represent my culture as an ethnic minority, specifically as a black Canadian,” said Parry. “I wanted to show other students at my school that you can be proud to be a black student and that you are able to make a change in your school’s community.”

His passion for black history also led him to create a proposal for a senior Black History course.

“He put together a comprehensive curriculum package for a Black History course and it was just incredible,” said Gambale. “He worked on it in his spare time, on the evenings and weekends. When he gave me the final copy I was amazed.” 

The Niagara Catholic board is currently reviewing the course plan. If it is approved, high schools within the board would offer the course as early as September 2019. 

The most challenging part of success for Parry has been the public recognition. 

“He doesn’t like being in the spotlight, he is very humble and all the accolades from the awards made him a little nervous,” said Gambale. “He is a gentle soul. When he graduated, he gave me a copy of the book The Peacemaker with a very thoughtful inscription inside. He incorporated that story of The Peacemaker into our student-teacher relationship and how he was able to grow into the person he is today. It was so thoughtful but that is just the kind of person he is. To me, that gift is priceless.”

Parry was one of three recipients of the Lincoln Alexander Award. Adam Lake of Mississauga is a volunteer for organizations dedicated to black and LGBTQ issues, while Sabreina Dahab of Hamilton worked as a member of her school’s Muslim Student Association to combat Islamophobia.

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