“We all need to help our country heal. And you, young people, are the medicine,” declared Senator Murray Sinclair to an arena of 16,000 youth at WE Day Ottawa.
For Grade 10 student Donovan Faraoni, those words were delivered directly to him. Hearing the Manitoba-born former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission passionately recount the dark history of the residential schools suffered by Indigenous Canadians—which included both Sinclair’s parents and grandparents—Donovan could not remain silent; it was time to speak out.
And so he established the WE Take Action club at Quebec’s Bishop’s College School.
“I knew that once people heard the message, once they knew they could get involved, they’d be inspired too,” says Donovan of founding the club.
To motivate his fellow students, Donovan turned to WE, and with the support of his school’s administration and teachers, the club wrangled a visit from WE speaker Tristan Jones only a few weeks into its conception.
Standing before 260 students from Bishop’s College School, Jones shared his story and passion for Indigenous issues. From there, he asked the students to get involved in their community. The students responded with a series of actions that are now forcing the Quebec government to take notice.
Incensed by the reports of intimidation, violence and sexual assault of Val-d’Or’s Indigenous community at the hands of Quebec police, the students launched solidarity actions to fight racism and increase inclusivity.
The blueprint for change began in the small action planning seminar that followed Jones’ presentation. Here, the students learned to think tangibly about issues they wanted to tackle. And while everything from hunger, poverty and housing were all discussed, the students ultimately chose racism, representation, and the issues facing Indigenous people in Val-d’Or and across Quebec as the focus of their action plan.
“Donovan is very aware of what’s going on in the country and in the news,” says François Tessier, the Associate Head of School for Student Life at Bishop’s College School. “He saw an opportunity to tackle something that’s not well known and needs to be addressed, and he took it.”
Thanks to this young student’s work with WE Take Action, Bishop’s College School is now leading the conversation in Sherbrooke around representation in the police force and systemic racism.
“We started with research,” explains Donovan, “and we discovered that the people of Val-d’Or have already decided what they want: a provincial inquiry. Everything we’ve done has been to support them.”
Through the club, students other than just Donovan began impacting change. Grade 10 student Pierre Anglade led an awareness campaign in the school and wider community with the intent of drawing attention to the lack of representation for visible minorities on the police force. Pierre called attention to the fact that while 11 per cent of people in Quebec identify as visible minorities, they make up only 1 per cent of the police force. This issue resonated at the international school, with nearly half of the students coming from outside of Canada. Soon, they had posters in every hallway and throughout Sherbrooke advocating the slogan, “Finding Balance.”
“I knew that once people heard the message, once they knew they could get involved, they’d be inspired too.”
Not content with just raising awareness, Grade 10 student Lara-Joelle Maunder spearheaded the push to have students and community members sign Quebec Inclusif’s petition, lobbying for a public commission on systemic racism, as called for by Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.
As for Donovan, he submitted a letter to the Ministere de l’Éducation de l’Ensiegnemenet supérieur demanding it update the title for the French translation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The French version—titled Dix Petits Nègres—uses language with racial overtones the students find offensive.
“It’s great to see the student’s development throughout the process,” shares Tessier. “As an educator, you can only be grateful.”
For Jones, the inspirational figure who helped guide the action planning behind the students’ campaign, the positive impact this group has made comes as no surprise.
“You give a speech and students pick up on things they’re ready to hear,” he suggests. “This is an incredibly international and diverse school, so they’re attune to this important conversation. They picked up on it and ran with it.”
Slowing down is not an option for the WE Take Action club, led by Donovan. Through Tessier, they connected with Grade 11 student Kamila Gareeva and found another cause to throw their passion behind. After starting at Bishop’s College School, Kamila learned about Doctors Without Borders, and—inspired by her mother’s work as a doctor in Russia, where she grew up—decided she wanted to contribute. Now, with the aid of Donovan and the WE Take Action Club, she has headed a fundraiser in support of her cause.
Jesse Mintz is a lifelong learner and believer in the power of stories to educate and inspire. He knows everyone has an interesting story—it’s just a matter of asking the right questions.