This spring, the BEE program completed another successful session engaging Black, male-identifying TDSB students. With a broad range of topics from skill development to social justice and mental health, this initiative proves itself, once again, to be an indispensable resource.
Hart House offers a space for learning that invites members of the broader community to better understand themselves, one another and the world we share. The Brotherhood of Ethnic Excellence (BEE) is a youth advisory program created by the Community Access and Outreach team at Hart House. In partnership with several Toronto District School Board (TDSB) high schools, BEE provides transformative learning, leadership skill development and mentorship for Black male-identifying students in Grades 9 to 12.
U of T student Helner Costa Tiago sings the praises of the program: “[It] was transformative. [It] made me think deeper about my experiences as a Black student. Being part of BEE brought me into a community of Black men who genuinely want to see the next generation of Black youth thrive. Every staff member was so inspiring and dedicated to doing what was best for youth.
“BEE was successful because of the community aspect. As we built relationships, and importantly accepted each other for who we are, we empowered the youth to be the best versions of themselves. Through empowerment, this program demystifies the myths and narratives placed on Black youth.”
Workshop and discussion topics include career exploration, personal development, sport and mental wellness, academic preparation, social justice and mental health.
Danielle Dinunzio, Manager, Community Access & Outreach, explains BEE’s foundational aspirations, “By centering the learning around the students’ social location and lived experiences, the program is designed to challenge youth to think critically. The goals are for youth to acquire the tools, skills and language needed to better navigate society by emphasizing their voices and experiences through the learnings and teachings; and to heighten Black male student engagement and foster their sense of connection in and with educational spaces.”
Rewarding Term Concludes
BEE has just completed another successful term this May 2023. The participants were Grades 9 and 10 students from Oakwood Collegiate Institute (OCI) and Grades 9 to 12 students from Central Technical School (CTS). Three sessions outside the schools merged the two school groups. Two of these were at Hart House and one was at the Hart House Farm.
Highlights of this year’s program included: 64 total sign ups with 34 participants; 21 out of 24 CTS students achieved their course credit; 35 total weekly sessions; and five guest speakers.
Reflecting on the Impact of this Program
A sense of connection was reported by students and staff. The program successfully fostered community development alongside individual, interpersonal growth. Youth expressed a desire for BEE to return and supported the idea of adding more spaces like BEE at their schools to encourage critical dialogue.
“These findings are a testament to the positive benefits the BEE youth program can create,” Danielle emphasizes.
Participants’ Describe Experience as Transformative
In the end-of-term survey, participants’ responses spoke to the calibre of the staff:
- “The program leaders understand me and connect with me because they see potential in us.”
- “The staff were great and cool people to be around.”
- “They've been very welcoming.”
The survey also revealed the program’s impact. Participants expressed how the program has influenced them on a personal level:
- “BEE made me mature and get a better understanding of life for Black people. […] It gave me a better understanding of racism.”
- “[It has] helped a lot. […] I felt more comfortable in my skin.”
- “This program opened my eyes to a lot of things to help and better me in life.”
What’s next for BEE? Scaling and Growing Capacity
With BEE’s success, other TDSB institutions with predominantly Black student populations have requested BEE at their schools.
“This speaks volumes about the success of the program, the need for programs like BEE and BEE’s growing reputation across the City of Toronto,” says Danielle.