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INSPIRE: Equity, inclusion and growing up in Midland

'Being mixed race in Midland, I have experienced discrimination,' high school student says, noting that sometimes people don't realize what they're saying could hurt

“Being mixed race in Midland, I have experienced discrimination,” says 17-year-old Lauryn Alexander.

The St. Theresa’s Catholic High School student explains that the racism she has dealt with runs the gamut from people touching her hair, calling her exotic, to kids using racist language even when they were in elementary school.

“They didn’t know what they were saying,” explains Alexander, referring to the children in elementary school who she believes likely learned the language they used from caregivers and parents.

Alexander has had to deal with this kind of learned racism since childhood and demonstrates a kind of maturity only borne in experience as a result.

“When you’re surrounded by white teachers and white classmates, sometimes they say things without even thinking how it could be received,” says Alexander.

She admits that she used to let a lot of things go when she was younger.

Casual racism, unconscious bias, or covert or overt racism exist everywhere, according to Alexander.

The ways people relate to other people of colour are often so pervasive that Alexander says she didn’t always tell people when they were being racist.

Alexander says that’s not the case anymore. She calls out racism and discrimination in all its forms as she has come into her activism.

“Instead of burying it down, If you can stop something, do it rather than being a bystander,” says Alexander.

The local teen is doing just that, and hoping to help others stop discrimination as she works with the Equity Club and the Black Student Union at St. Theresa’s.

“I’m getting involved in these clubs to make a difference,” says Alexander. “We are the future, so if we educate each other about these things we can make a change.”

The Black Student Union started because the principal at St. Theresa’s wanted to stop the racism he had seen around campus.

There were racial slurs on lockers and in the bathrooms at St. Theresa’s and, according to Alexander, the principal wanted to end that with a union that would help educate people.

“He noticed a lot of hate speech around school, and there’s always lots on social media,” explains Alexander.

Alexander and more than five other students of colour in Grade 12 meet every Wednesday to discuss their experiences and share ideas about how to better sensitize the student population about diversity.

This year, the Black Student Union will be organizing a flag day. Students will be encouraged to come to school with a flag representing where they are from — Canadian or anywhere in the world.

Flag day will take place in time for soccer’s World Cup so students can also show their support for whichever country they hope will take the cup.

Currently, the union is looking for a local activist to come in and speak to students.

The Equity Club, meanwhile, focuses on five sectors: black students, Indigenous students, LGBTQ+ rights, students living with disabilities, and getting menstrual products into all bathrooms.

So far, the club has plans for Black History Month in February and for Pride Month in June.

“We’re looking at what we can do to make the school more welcoming for everyone,” says Alexander. “We’re educating people as far as we can.”

The group started earlier in the year with 10 to 15 members and now has 30 members, proving that there are a lot of young people who want to foster a more welcoming environment at their school.

“Being one of the only black students in school, I used to feel so alone. Now, hearing other people’s stories, and seeing that they have dealt with similar situations, I feel differently.

“It’s better to not be a bystander and always be an ally, because you never know what someone is going through.”