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Empowerment in Action: SMCS hosts 2nd annual Black Student Conference

Students and teachers representing 17 Greater Toronto Area schools gathered at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) on Friday, April 26, to celebrate the 2nd annual Brilliancy and Resiliency Conference for Black students.

“The conference was a resounding success, a powerful gathering that celebrated strength, resilience, and brilliance,” says Dr. Daniel Lumsden ’96, Community Engagement and Learning Lead and event organizer. “From start to finish, the conference provided a platform for black students to come together, share their experiences, and empower each other to overcome obstacles and achieve greatness.”


Following a morning meet-and-greet and a musical introduction by Nathan Kesete and Montgomery Huddleston, the conference kicked off with keynote speakers Peter Thurton ’81 and Yonette Dey, Superintendent of Education for the Peel District School Board. Their impassioned talks resonated deeply with the audience, highlighting stories of perseverance and hard work and instilling a sense of empowerment and inspiration.


In the afternoon, workshops led by educators, community leaders, and students covered topics including Cultivating Black Joy and Mental Well-being, Interviewing Do’s and Don’ts, Essential Workforce Skills for Black Students, Parting the Roots Workshop: History of Black Hair, and strategies for building resilience in the face of adversity.

“I enjoyed our second annual black student conference. It was nice to see some of the friends I made last year, and it was really cool to run my own workshop on navigating white spaces,” says Emileo Kandankery, Grade 12. “The biggest lesson I learned while creating and presenting my workshop was the importance of connecting with my audience. Originally, I planned to do research and present my findings. However, Mr. John helped direct me in a different direction, and I decided to incorporate the participants and have them partake in acted-out scenarios.”


Networking opportunities throughout the day provided students with the chance to connect with peers, mentors, and potential collaborators. These interactions fostered a sense of community and solidarity, reinforcing the belief that together, black students have the power to effect meaningful change in their lives and school communities.

“The energy and enthusiasm displayed by the students throughout the conference were truly inspiring. Their eagerness to learn and their willingness to engage in dialogue reflect their commitment to personal and professional growth,” says Shassha Austin, conference workshop presenter. “It was a pleasure and insightful to witness their curiosity and determination firsthand. Moreover, I was deeply impressed by the dedication and professionalism of all the faculty and staff.”

“The conference exemplified unity, inspiration, and empowerment, leaving a lasting impact on all who attended,” adds Lumsden. “It served as a reminder of the incredible strength and potential within the black community.”


As attendees departed, a palpable sense of enthusiasm and pride in their heritage permeated those in attendance, along with a renewed confidence in their abilities and determination to overcome any obstacle.

“This was my first time at the black conference; it was a great experience, very enjoyable and informative,” says Festa Kidane, Grade 12. “The black speakers who attended gave in-depth and relevant presentations, which are bound to help me now and when I pursue my post-secondary education.”

Looking forward, the conference hosting duties will move to the University of Toronto Schools for the next two years before moving to Toronto French School.

“It was inspiring to witness the collective resilience and determination in the room, and I left feeling empowered and motivated to continue fostering community and support within the black student network,” says Danay Yehdego, Grade 12.

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