UBC Black Futures program aims to show students potential in post-secondary

UBC’s Securing Black Futures project is showing Black students there’s a seat for them in post-secondary schools by empowering them to picture themselves in university. Crystal Laderas reports.

A program out of UBC aims to empower Black high school students and show them they have a seat in the academic world.

The Black Futures program is also learning from students as part of a national study that could shape Canadian campus policies on inclusion in the future.

The program ran from October to May of this year. Through it, students heard from various professionals, including lawyers, a neurosurgeon, and a science fiction writer, all to show them what’s possible.

“We become a teacher because my mom’s a teacher or my mom’s a nurse — nothing wrong with that. But, you know, if you meet a physicist, maybe you think, ‘Oh, that actually is relevant.’ Especially to meet a Black psychiatrist, for example, that might move you in a particular way,” explained Dr. Annette Henry, a professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education and cross-appointed to the Institute for Race, Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice.

Growing up in Congo, Mareoche Tshilolo dreamed of becoming a pilot.

“I’ll fly a plane for no money at all, so if I can make my living, I’ll be double blessed,” he told CityNews of his dream.

Mareoche Tshilolo smiles for the camera as he holds up a diploma

Mareoche Tshilolo has always dreamed of being a pilot. He took part in the Black Futures program. (CityNews Image)

But flight school is notoriously expensive. Tshilolo eventually immigrated to Canada and earned a scholarship to an Alberta college. Despite his successes, there were naysayers along the way.

“They are like, ‘Oh, there is not many jobs in piloting. There is no money, or whatever. So you must take what is on the table, like just get a degree, maybe in teaching or whatever. You’ll have a job right away.’ And for me, I didn’t want to do something that I would regret doing,” added Tshilolo, a participant of the Securing Black Futures program.

Henry says the program has also allowed youth to connect with other Black students, something she says is important going into post-secondary schools.

“Many black students in this part of the world are the only one in their class. So they may go to a high school or even an elementary school and be the only Black child all the way through. Never have a Black teacher,” she said.

It’s a reality Alexandra Mandewo knows well.

“When I was in middle school in Coquitlam, there were 700 students and I was the only Black student,” she told CityNews. “I don’t want to go to a place where I’d feel othered.”

Alexandra Mandewo speaks to reporter Crystal Laderas, who has her back facing the camera, as they sit on a bench

Alexandra Mandewo took part in UBC’s Black Futures program. She says before entering post-secondary in the U.S., she took a hard look at the cultural environment there. (CityNews Image)

Mandewo has a passion for biomedical engineering involving prosthetics. But before enrolling at George Washington University in the U.S., she first looked at the cultural environment.

“When I was applying to schools, I made sure that I knew what the demographic was, not only in the school but in the community. And then after that, I think it was just, what schools also had my program?” she explained.

A second portion of the program and study involves undergraduate students. Findings will be combined with research from the University of Calgary, McMaster University, Dalhousie University, and York University.

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