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Celebrating Excellence at CIS Black Student Conference

Black brilliance and resilience were on display at the debut of the CIS Black Student Conference at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) on April 28, 2023.

“It was inspiring and encouraging to attend the CIS Black Student Conference,” says Danay Yehdego, Grade 11 SMCS student who attended and introduced one of the keynote speakers. “I got the chance to network with black students from various schools and learn about their viewpoints on a range of subjects.”

SMCS CIS Black Student Conference 2023 | Marlon Majdoub presenting
Marlong Majdoub, keynote speaker, addresses attendees of the inaugural CIS Black Student Conference.

He adds, “It was important to me [to attend] because I want to make a difference in the lives of numerous black students at my school and other private schools by helping them feel accepted and understand that they are not alone even if they don’t fit in.”

The inaugural conference welcomed 93 students and staff from SMCS and nine other schools within the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario (CIS Ontario).

“The goal of the conference was to celebrate ‘Brilliancy and Resiliency’ among black students,” says Dr. Daniel Lumsden ’96, Community Engagement and Learning Lead. “Also, to provide a safe and inclusive space for black students to connect and build community while inspiring them to become leaders in their communities and make a positive impact on the world.”

The conference featured two keynote speakers who addressed attendees ahead of the morning and afternoon sessions.

SMCS CIS Black Student Conference 2023 | Jacqueline Lumsden presenting
Jacqueline Lumsden speaks with students at the CIS Black Student Conference.

Marlon Majdoub, senior sales director at Teladoc Health, kicked off the morning session, with Kurt Michael Downes ’97, regarded as one of Canada’s leading track and field coaches and current head coach at Border City Athletics Club, opening the afternoon’s events.

“Participating in this conference was important to me because as a black student at the school, participating in these events is a great experience and something special that is not done at many other schools,” says Tristan Rawlings, Grade 11 student at SMCS. “It is also a way to connect with other black students from our school and other schools and talk about our experiences.”

The full-day event was split into four sessions where additional guest experts led smaller group workshops on topics such as black mental health, surviving the ‘grind culture’, experiences of black students in CIS schools, and more.

SMCS CIS Black Student Conference 2023 | Kurt Downes presenting
Kurt Michael Downes, keynote speaker, kicked off the afternoon workshops.

“I discovered that I needed to think bigger and exceed my expectations as a black male and not think inside the box after learning a range of methods for dealing with adversity in different areas of my life,” says Yehdego. “I learned all of these traits through the workshops, and I’m grateful to the speakers who offered their experiences and knowledge to us so that we may use it to succeed in the future.”

Guest speakers included: Peter Thurton ’81, financial services and energy lawyer, Jacqueline Lumsden, patient care manager for Unity Health Toronto, Antoinette Morgan, director of student well-being at Bayview Glen, and Dwight Donald ’90, vice president of distribution of a U.S.-based financial company.

“I had a good time at the CIS Black Student Conference on April 28,” says Rawlings. “It was very informative to me and gave me many examples of black excellence and success for other black people. I also got to see some careers that I may be interested in pursuing.”

SMCS CIS Black Student Conference 2023 | Antoinette Morgan presenting
Antoinette Morgan, guest speaker, hosted a workshop on the experiences of black students in CIS schools.

SMCS will host the second annual conference in 2024 to complete the two-year hosting commitment for CIS schools before the conference moves to a new location.

“It was important to host this event to show that we are not afraid of taking a leap when it comes to education and inspiring students,” says Lumsden. “We have been doing this work for three years now, and to see it come to fruition and the success we had was very important.”

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