Afro-Canadian students U.S.-bound for election
Six members of Burnaby high school club hope to witness history in Chicago Nov. 4
ETHNICITY Local Afro-Canadian students are set for a once-in-alifetime field trip as their high school heritage club prepares to head to Chicago to witness a key moment in American history.
Burnaby’s Moscrop secondary school is offering six students from its Afro-Canadian club a trip to Chicago to deepen their knowledge of black history while providing them with a first look into the U.S. presidential election in early November.
The club’s head teacher, Beth Applewhite, said the visit to Chicago was originally going to be a personal trip. She and her relatives had arranged to meet in Chicago so they could be there if Democratic candidate Barack Obama, an Illinois senator who cut his political teeth in the city, won the presidency.
“But then I thought, ‘ Wait, I have this club and it could be such a great experience for them,’ ” Applewhite said.
The trip was then endorsed by school trustees. “They understood the significant opportunity the trip created for the students,” Applewhite said.
What was originally to have been an excursion for two AfroCanadian students soon turned into a group of six as parents of club members insisted their children take part in the experience, even if it meant paying out of their own pockets.
Kevin Gilliam, father of Grade 12 student Robert Gilliam, said he believes the trip is important because there are only certain times in life when a chance comes along to witness something historically important firsthand.
Obama, the first African-American to run for the U.S. presidency, currently leads Republican candidate John McCain in the polls.
Shanyne Noel, a Grade 12 student who was one of the original two chosen, said she was ecstatic when Roman Kovacic, another Grade 12 student, told her she would be going on the trip.
“I freaked out. I thought they were joking.”
Applewhite told club members that to be considered for the trip, they should hand in an essay explaining why they should be chosen to go to Chicago. She picked Noel and Kovacic because they put in extra effort that showed this was a trip they really wanted to experience.
“Their reasons were touching, and they were brutally honest,” she said.
Noel’s essay explained her insecurities, which she has overcome since gaining a sense of cultural pride.
Kovacic wrote about the positive role models in his life and the leaders he looks up to. He said he felt confident he could be a good ambassador for the school.
Applewhite, who has a British and Trinidadian background, was aware of the sensitivity of racial issues for students. So she started the club in September 2007 to promote understanding throughout the student body while fostering pride in those who directly identify with an African heritage.
Noel said belonging to the club and going on the trip are significant for her because she believes racism is an important but sensitive issue that isn’t touched on enough in school. “We just don’t learn enough about it in our socials textbooks,” she said.
During the five-day trip, the students will be hosted by Chicago’s academically prestigious King College Prep high school. It is three blocks from Obama’s home, which excites the club all the more.
“It’s like we’re guaranteed front-row seats,” Applewhite said.
There will be many legacy celebrations taking place on election night, Nov. 4, some of which the club hopes to attend.
“I don’t care if I’m out on the street corner, freezing cold with my jacket and my little Barack flag,” said Applewhite.
“I’m mostly excited about seeing how excited [the students] are.”
In the days leading up to the election, club members will go on a historical tour of black Chicago, visit the DuSable Museum of African American History, tour The Oprah Winfrey Show’s studio and drop in at Obama’s former church, where Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s controversial sermons were delivered.
Applewhite and the students will also hear a speech Obama is set to give on election day.
“I can’t believe I’m going to see him in person,” said Noel.
“We have been so inspired by Obama’s message of hope and change,” Applewhite added.
She hopes the students will appreciate being in a major city where there are many upstanding black citizens.
This should run counter to what the students normally hear of Chicago’s deteriorating housing projects, violent gangs and poverty.
“They’ll learn that while they see and hear about these things in media, they don’t have to buy it,” said Applewhite. “There’s this whole other world out there.”