Black Pearls and Imani dispel negative stereotypes by leading through example

Black students don’t get the support they need in high school to continue in university, about 100 East Scarborough students were told at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus on Nov. 18.o

Speakers from the organization Black Pearls, encouraged students to choose post-secondary education by presenting their own life stories. The event was held by Imani, the black students’ alliance at UTSC. Imani’s mentorship program brings students to the campus to tutor them twice a week. But it’s more than just an after-school homework club.

“There’s not a lot of encouragement and support for black students to go to university. We bring them to UTSC so they get to see other black students like them,” said student facilitator Jordanne Amos.

The Black Pearls have a similar focus. After noticing the lack of educated-driven black role models for black youths, Renee Rawlins, 31, started a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping black youths achieve their goals.

The group holds financial seminars, book clubs, charity events and give out scholarships. Among the five women, they share about 10 degrees. Kim Tull, 32 is a UTSC graduate and now works with the institution. And it’s OK to be smart and beautiful — Rawlins is a former Miss Barbados.

When Shani Leatham,31, told the captivated students that she grew up in the ghetto. A student asked her where.

“The jungle,” she said, also known as Lawrence Heights.

The youths erupted in applause with wide-open eyes, stunned that someone like them could be so successful and not be a rapper, singer, athlete or actor.

Both Imani and the Black Pearls told students to choose university rather than applied or apprentice options since most are capable and want to.

“These youth are usually highly intelligent with the ability to go as far as they are willing to work for, but they often display an overwhelming lack of confidence in their academic abilities, which is often aggravated by the schools they attend. They’ve been stigmatized and have kind of accepted it. I find that most of the high schools don’t have teachers rallying for black students,” Amos said.

Black Pearl member Monique Taylor, 28, is proof of this. Taylor was a straight-A student and a track star, but was only encouraged to pursue track.  Though she went to Ohio University on a full track scholarship, she is now a bank executive.

The Imani mentorship program started in 2006 with only 10 students, but has expanded to about 65 students who voluntarily participate.and are eager to take advantage of homework help.

And during the question period at the end of the Black Pearls’ presentation at UTSC, many hands went up, wanting to know more about how these women became so sucessful.