Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School student council members, from left, Daniel Langlois, Mireya Poon-Young and Daisy Thang, say the school’s anti-Black racism clothing has sparked conversations around the betterment of society. Photo courtesy Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School

Ottawa students drive equity message forward

By 
  • March 26, 2021

A student-led Black Lives Matter (BLM) t-shirt initiative at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Ottawa’s west end aims to keep dialogue around anti-Black racism alive.

The shirts and COVID masks, which have been approved as part of the school’s uniform, present a message of equity that resonated deeply in a school with a large Black student population. As student leaders sought a Lenten project to boost morale in a tough year of pandemic and in light of the surge of BLM, they wanted to do something to commemorate the movement and help to carry the conversation forward. With the support of teachers, the project took off.

“I think a lot of people maybe heard about (BLM) this year, but me personally, and I think as a school we’ve been aware of it from its days of origin,” said Mireya Poon-Young, an executive on student council. “It’s always been important to us. Because of the last year, a lot more people are listening now and want to make that change in every way possible.”

The movement has led to more Black student-led initiatives such as a Black student association, a student forum and a volunteer mentorship program.

School chaplain Charity Corbett says the initiative has been bringing the school community together around a positive message rooted in the Catholic faith.

“In our liturgy we’ve talked about the idea of journeying together toward the promised land,” said Corbett. “For the Israelites, that’s a place of freedom and autonomy, and for us it’s a world where the dignity of every person is seen and honoured. This initiative has really been a community builder here at the school.”

Students are sparking their own dialogue and hearing individual opinions and perspectives amongst classmates. Daniel Langlois, a student council executive of white European descent, says conversations around racism have been particularly impactful.

“As an ally I didn’t realize the scope of the BLM movement before this past year,” said Langlois. “I think it’s important now to educate people like myself who may have been ignorant or not understood what was going on. The shirts are obviously a method of sparking a dialogue and conversation so that more people can become aware of the issues that sort of plague our society and look for solutions on how to move forward.”

Student council co-president Daisy Thang designed the logos and layout of the t-shirts. Students sent in ideas for a phrase to go with the logo, choosing Power to the People, a community building message Thang says connected with a lot of students. Proceeds from the initiative will be going to the Agnes Zabali Boys and Girls Club in Uganda, an after-school program run by Notre Dame alumnae Jimmy Sebulime.

Council members say the dialogue shows much has been gained as people find new ways to come together in understanding. Through all the grief and not being able to physically connect, the good that has come from the social justice movements over the past year have revitalized important conversations for the betterment of society.

“I think collectively, despite the trauma that the past year has caused, there’s been a lot of collective growth within communities,” said Langois. “People are sort of learning more about what the world is from perspectives other than their own.”

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