The sound of student voices raised in soulful song echoed through the galleries of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Thursday morning, as young museum enthusiasts joined the celebratory launch of this year’s Black History Month programming.
The event, which drew nearly 100 elementary and high school singers and dancers from across the city, also served as a launch for a new Partners In Learning initiative between the ROM and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB).
That partnership, said ROM’s Director and CEO Janet Carding, will see 12,500 TCDSB students granted free access to the museum’s Black History Month educational programming during the month of February, signifying the ROM’s commitment to strengthening public access.
“It’s about building community – a tangible example of our emphasis on audience-driven experiences that bring public sector organizations and the philanthropic community together to advance accessible, enjoyable learning opportunities that celebrate culture and enhance the quality of life for a broad range of visitors,” she said.
To enhance their African Canadian Heritage Month curriculum, TCDSB students will be encouraged to visit the ROM’s Carnival: From Emancipation to Celebration exhibition, which is open until Feb. 24.
Featuring the work of Trinidadian-born, and internationally renowned masquerade designer Brian Mac Farlane, the Carnival exhibit will host special programming in celebration of Black History Month over the Family Day long weekend (Feb. 16 to 18). From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. all weekend long, visitors of all ages will be able to take part in drumming performances and workshops, face painting, mask-making, and storytelling.
Board chair Ann Andrachuk lauded the new partnership between the TCDSB and the museum, thanking the ROM and its donors for making it possible for her students and their families to enjoy all the museum has to offer – especially when it comes to the Black History Month programming.
“This opportunity helps to level the playing field for our students across the city and gives them a chance to experience learning in a unique, world-class museum,” she said, noting that the TCDSB has only been enriched by the diversity of language, cultures and traditions of its student population.
“We, in turn, are enriching our students’ lives and empowering them to take leadership role aimed at celebrating our diversities and eliminating all forms of discrimination. Together, our shared responsibility through opportunities like this partnership, will remind students of our history and encourage them to develop a respect and appreciation of our past.”
For 12-year-old Eliza Eduave – one of about 20 interpretive dancers from St. Maria Goretti Catholic School who performed at Thursday’s Black History Month launch – dancing in front of a crowd at the renowned ROM was “nerve-wracking” but meaningful.
“We’ve been learning about how the slaves had shackles on their feet and they just wanted to be free, they wanted to be their own person and to think what they wanted to think, not what someone else wanted them to,” she said. “So, our dance was called Shackles, and it was about how no matter what brings you down, you can be in the toughest situation, but if you just believe in God and you pray a lot, then you can get through anything.”
Also performing at Thursday’s launch were April Rucinski and Loralin King from Loretto College School, and Britney Jones from Blessed Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary school, who all sang Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, and the Our Lady of Wisdom choir.