Jan. 17th, 2017

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I often joke that since my (small, French-speaking) school moved from downtown Toronto to the West End, we’ve become a lot more diverse: about half my class is white this year and my African-Canadian kids come from Congo, Angola and Burundi. 

It didn’t use to be like that: when I first started working at my school, about 90% of our kids were African-Canadian (often children whose parents had fairly recently arrived from Africa), with a solid 85% hailing from Congo. Lingala was as commonly spoken in the schoolyard as French. I learned a few choice bad words in Lingala during my first few years there (though I have, sadly, forgotten most of them).

So Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 was a Big Deal for us.

Our awesome (AWESOME) grade 6 teacher, Monsieur E (who is from Tchad), decided that this event was important and significant enough for our genral population that it should be watched by everyone. So he took his class to the library and turned on our big-ass, really old TV to watch it with the kids. He sent word to all the other teachers that his class would be watching the inauguration, so sorry for all the noise, but we were all invited to join them if we wanted. 

My grade 2 kids didn’t want to miss it, so we went.

I’d never seen my kids that quiet (and I never saw them that quiet afterwards, either). They sat quietly through the whole thing, absolutety silent and unmoving, their backs ramrod straight, their heads held high, their eyes burning with pride and joy. But it’s the older kids I remember the most - the girls from Monsieur E’s class in particular. I still see them sitting at the back, their shoulders touching, their hands firmly linked, the tears rolling silently down their cheeks. And all that hope on their open faces. 

I still see them - they were smart, kind, confident pre-teens; they’re smart, kind, confident University students now. I hope they never lose their hope and their quiet determination to change the world and make it a better place.  

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