TORONTO -- Toronto's first black-focused school opened yesterday with drumbeats and a tradition that children rely on entire communities.
"It takes a village to raise a child," community organizer Donna Harrow said, quoting an African saying she applied to everyone supporting the Africentric Alternative School.
At Sheppard Public School on Sheppard Ave. W. near Keele St., where the Africentric school is based, Harrow celebrated the opening, cheering: "Victory is won!"
Fellow "founding mother" Angela Wilson told kindergarten-to-Grade 5 students at a morning ceremony: "You will succeed, you will work hard, but you will be supported by your teachers and supporters like me."
Harrow and Wilson urged the Toronto District School Board in mid-2007 to address low achievement and a 40% dropout rate among black students. After a heated debate, trustees six months later voted for the facility.
The Africentric School, whose 115 students -- 30 more than registered last week -- are brought from across the city, emphasizes heritage but must meet education requirements.
"The focus is on youth and our culture ... a lot of our history," Alcian Morgan said, as she, husband Keith Freckleton and daughter Stacey, a York University student, took photos with the Jamaica-born couple's youngest child.
At the head of a Grade 2-3 line, Seyelle Henry, 7, "will easily make the transition," her Canadian-born mom, Jameelah, said.
Living nearby, Seyelle attended Sheppard, but "I want her to have a broader outlook on life," Henry, 29, said. "I think this will help her build a better sense of esteem and self-worth."
Given her Jamaican ancestry, Henry said the new school gives her daughter a chance to "learn about my culture."
Cedric Thompson was so impressed after the opening, he left clutching registration forms for son, Delonny, 9.
After an African drum group's rhythmic welcome, community activist Clem Marshall, of the Black Secretariat, said ancestors were with them in spirit, helping provide the "strength and courage to be here today."