The Bridge Program at Humber’s School of Social and Community Services is connecting black students to more than just academic success.
It has been developed to address the limited engagement of Black students in the larger academic environment.
“It’s being developed as a pilot project and we’re hoping what we learn from this group we’ll be able to tailor to work with other groups of students as well,” said Dr. Beverly-Jean Daniel, the founder of the program and program coordinator for Humber’s Community and Justice Services Program.
Daniel said the goal of the program is to realize the transformative powers possible when black students are exposed to experiences in an academic setting.
“It was designed to support the engagement, retention and graduation rates of African, Black and Caribbean students,” she said. “Students are allowed to look at issues around identity development, developing comprehensive active identities, leadership skill development and networking.”
Daniel said it empowers them and allows them to challenge preconceived stereotypical notions of black student success. She said the underlying premise of the program is in order to effectively change common perception you must first change self-perception.
She said that Black students have become so inundated with the negative messages of the prospects of their success that it becomes difficult to envision the normalcy of success and excellence.
“It’s about beginning to understand a different set of messages because many of the conceptions and messages they have developed about themselves are extremely negative,” she said.
Daniel said the program, launched in the summer of 2013, was in response to a trend she observed that highlighted a disproportionate amount of dropouts from the Community and Justice Services program being black students.
“At the end of one semester I was looking at the list of students who were slated to be withdrawn from the program,” she said. “I decided to go and look at the statistics for the program from the previous four years, and the pattern was exactly the same.”
Daniel said she believes in the idea that inaction can make you just as guilty as action, so she decided to act.
Manager of Humber’s Planning and Development Department Sabra Desai said it’s extremely important to develop programs that support student success and engagement.
“It’s not only about bringing students in, it’s about supporting them to succeed in their educational endeavours,” she said. “We want to make their experience while they’re at Humber a meaningful one in every sense of the word.”
Desai said it’s important to recognize the post-secondary experience as a lifetime opportunity and ensure it’s as fulfilling as possible for students.
“If I were a student of whom not much was expected having a space where we have these types of discussions,” she said. “Hopefully, being part and parcel of these discussions helps them learn ways to reframe these expectations and not let it hold them back, by acknowledging their potential.”
The program consists of eight workshops aimed at providing more than the conventional definition of education. Daniel said these workshops expose students to resources, networking opportunities and most importantly a culture of success.
“To create a community of success where students get a consistent message that success is expecting of you, and that you’re going to have people behind you,” she said. “That becomes a big piece for the students, just the sense that they’re no longer trying to do this alone.”
“It builds on the recognition that as we can create the opportunities for African, Black and Caribbean students to excel,” said Daniel.
“They begin to transform themselves, they being to transform the college and they begin to transform those around them as well.”
– Dr. Beverly-Jean Daniel, founder of Bridge program and program coordinator for Humber’s Community and Justice Services Program.
Four Community and Justice Service students who went through the program were recipients of 2013 awards from the Association of Black Law Enforcers (A.B.L.E). They each received scholarships in recognition of their success as students.
Second year student Marcus Thomas said he considers himself a pioneer of the program because he was involved with the preliminary discussions when The Bridge was a mere concept around the winter of 2012.
“The Bridge program, for me, is changing the definition of what Blackness means. We often have different images projected onto us about who we are, what we’re capable of and what we can accomplish,” he said.
Thomas said the program acknowledges this fact and counteracts it by promoting positive representations of Black people that allow students to see themselves in a different light.
“As a Black male, the media doesn’t do me any favours in terms of promoting the positive images of myself and who I am, and who people like me truly are,” he said.
“If we’re to be successful we can’t let the media and society define who we are, and The Bridge has definitely cultivated a sense of pride within us and helped us to see us for who we truly are,” Thomas said.
Thomas said when he was invited by Dr. Daniel to volunteer at the 2013 A.B.L.E scholarship ball he was overwhelmed with the level of success being recognized and honoured.
“It’s always been a problem for me that our success is so hidden and not promoted. It’s pretty much thrown under the rug and not celebrated,” he said.
“That was the first time I ever witnessed so many successful black people and it made me feel elated. The amount of joy I experienced that night was euphoric,” said Thomas.
Second year Criminal Justice student Hilry Neale Jr. graduated from the Community and Justice Services program with honours in 2013 and decided to enroll in the four year Criminal Justice Degree program.
He said his time in program expanded his horizon to the possibilities of fully engaging in the college experience.
“It signified a sense of belonging in the context of school,” he said. “A lot of people come to school to do what they got to do and then leave. The Bridge is a way of leaving with something more.”
“The interaction and hearing from other people and their stories was great. There was no judgment in anything I shared, that’s what really helped,” said Neale.
He said he was astounded when Dr. Daniel told him he would be receiving an award from A.B.L.E and that he had been selected as the student to make a speech at the award ceremony on the behalf of all recipients.
“That was one of the greatest accomplishments in my life,” he said. “It was definitely an honour and being given that opportunity helped a lot with my level of confidence.”
Daniel said the role that a teacher plays for their students is one that goes beyond the confines of a classroom, and the importance of the responsibilities this entails should be fully understood.
“I’ve always made the argument that teachers have the possibility of life and death in their hands, and the more they recognize that the more they should be able to guide students into more positive and comprehensive interests,” she said.
First year student Ramona Robinson said she was hesitant to apply for the scholarship from A.B.L.E because she was uncertain if she met all the criteria required.
“Dr. Daniel just said to apply,” she said. “With every excuse I was throwing at her the only response she gave was ‘Ramona apply,’ so I just applied.”
As an International student, Robinson said The Bridge attracted her because it provided an opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals.
“I didn’t really have any friends in Canada,” she said. “When I heard about The Bridge I thought it seemed interesting because it was all about promoting success and creating that belonging feeling among black people.
Second year student Ann Obasohan said the program instilled her with a level of confidence in herself and her capabilities that she never fathomed were possible.
Obasohan said she got involved because she viewed it as a great learning opportunity and a way to challenge stereotypes she’s always been bombarded with concerning the ability of black women to succeed.
She said when Dr. Daniel asked her to speak at the launch of The Bridge program she was hesitant but rose to the challenge.
“The first thing that came to my mind was ‘this lady is setting me up for failure’ but I agreed to do it,” she said.
“It was a good experience for me to be in front of people I didn’t even know and I was just reading and telling them about my experiences. It made me realize how much I had been estricting myself,” said Obasohan.
Daniel said despite the fact that she knows a few members of A.B.L.E there’s no concrete official affiliation between the organization and the program.
“Two of the interviewers (during the application for scholarship process) talked about how impressed they were with the students who were in The Bridge program, and out of that they have signed up to become mentors for our students,” she said.
Daniel said the early success of the program serves as confirmation for her understanding of blackness as being embedded in excellence.
“When I started this journey it was really about getting some students the support they need to be able to navigate the system,” she said. “For the students who have been involved with the program to describe it as life changing that to me speaks volumes, and it really wasn’t what I was expecting.”