Middle school students have Courageous Conversations about racism with top Ottawa athletes
Diversity, inclusion, and racism were all topics of important discussion for middle-school students in Ottawa, who took part in with a group of professional and high performing athletes Tuesday.
The admiration for some of city's premier athletes is obvious, by the cheers of more than 400 students at Frank Ryan Catholic School. Taking Center stage were three Ottawa Redblacks players, including quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, along with GeeGee's varsity basketball star forward Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu.
The group is here to share raw, personal stories, of prejudice they have faced and of perseverance through hardship, to encourage the next generation.
"It is hard to talk about," says Masoli, who shared with the students his recent experience where he was faced with racist comments. "That's exactly why we're here to let them know they should speak up and that they're right and they are not alone in speaking up and we got to look out for each other ... And showing them that there are things you can do. There are tools and support systems that you can reach out to and get support for whatever you are going through."
The Ottawa Redblacks Courageous Conversations program provides students, in grades 6 to 8 an opportunity to engage in open and honest discussions about racism, inclusion and equity.
"If I can pour and invest some knowledge into these young people and have these conversations that I didn't have at their age that means our future is already looking bright," said event host, Stefan Keyes of CTV Morning Live. "And understand that we are not alone with what we are experiencing and that they can see adults still going through it and it can resonate with them. I think it's hugely important."
Students asked tough questions to the group of athletes, about overcoming intolerance and microaggressions, topics Kene Onyeka, addressed.
"These are the conversations that bring us closer together and I think this is exactly what we need," says the Redblacks defensive lineman. "Because I think it's very, very important to the victims of racism and bullying and whatever else to feel like they have that support."
For Redblacks defensive back Alonzo Addae, his goal is to empower and champion the group of youths and to provide a sense of hope.
"It's realizing that vulnerability is really strength in a lot of situations," he says. "Being out here and putting ourselves out there for these kids to sympathize and relate to what's happening."
It's also a teaching moment, learning to have the strength to say something if you see something.
"It's showing that you are not alone, and that you have strength to stand up against racism against discrimination," says Lefebvre-Okankwu. "Being a role model being a guide it's just really big for a younger generation, so I'm really happy that I was part of that and if I can just have an impact on one person's life and that's so important to me and that's perfect."
The Courageous Conversations program is offered for free and educators can register online to have the interactive event scheduled for their school.
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