CPCO Black Heritage and Excellence Series 2024:Anne-Marie King

Anne-Marie King -Vice-Principal at Toronto Catholic District School Board
Interviewed by: Bryan DeSousa (Member of the EDI Standing Committee and Sub-Committee Chair)

Tell us about yourself and the journey that led you to become a leader and mentor of the Catholic faith and education.

Anne-Marie: I do feel that being a student in the Toronto Catholic District School Board from Kindergarten to Grade 12 has had a big impact on me and shaped who I am today. I had an excellent school experience in both elementary school and high school. I enjoyed learning new things and participating in extracurricular activities. I felt cared for and supported by my teachers, who were good examples of faith in action. Participating in church activities helped strengthen my faith, and I have many great and vivid memories of my elementary and high school years.

I entered the teaching profession without aiming to become a leader or mentor. However, over the years, I took on more leadership roles and succeeded in them. This, along with the encouragement I received from colleagues and the influence of my grandmother and aunt who were educators, motivated me to stand up for what's right.

My journey into administration began when George Floyd was murdered, and the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum during the beginning of the pandemic. I was surprised by the lack of discussion around these issues in schools, especially considering the huge impact they had on the black community. This led me to hold safe space meetings for students to talk about real-life issues, and those discussions revealed other issues. Students expressed the need for more racial diversity among administrators and teachers, as well as a lack of mental health support in our school. I decided to address these issues with my colleagues and superiors, despite the challenge of speaking publicly about race for the first time. I shared my concerns with the area's superintendent Ryan Peterson and Director Brendan Brown. He was even willing to hear my concerns, so I know this wasn't the first time that they heard about these issues. But what these two men, our area superintendent and the director, did was challenge me to not just talk about these issues or problems, but to actually try to change them, to do something. So they kind of challenged me as in, "Okay, you see these issues now, but then what can you do?"  It seems like the first time I thought I could become a leader who could make a greater impact than just in the classroom was when I was encouraged by allies who believed in me. Their belief in me helped me believe in myself. They didn't focus on power and positions but on equity and justice. They invited me to sit at their table, and that made me feel like I was being called to do something seemingly impossible, similar to how Moses might have felt. Despite not having the right language, power, or resources, I felt like I was being called by God to do something greater than I could have imagined. I put my trust in God and started my journey towards leadership, believing that He would be with me. I feel called to serve not only my black community, but all students, and I believe my unique experiences give me a different perspective. Each month, my confidence as a leader and mentor grows, and I see the impact I'm making in the lives of students, staff, parents, and colleagues.


What does Black Excellence and Heritage mean to you and why is it important to take the time to celebrate?

Anne-Marie: I believe that celebrating Black Heritage means acknowledging the achievements and contributions of black women from the past and present in various fields such as sports, arts, science, politics, and education. It's important to recognize and celebrate these accomplishments throughout the year, not just in February. By learning about the great achievements of black men and women, children and youth can be inspired and realize that they, too, can accomplish great things. It instills a sense of pride and belonging when you see someone who looks like you achieve something significant. It's about celebrating the successes and learning from history. By doing so, we hope to inspire more positive stories and show that anyone, regardless of their background, can succeed. In a school setting, it's about encouraging black students to utilize their talents and pursue their dreams. Media often portrays blackness and black youth in limited and stereotypical ways, and it's crucial to change these perceptions and showcase diverse role models. This can help expand the aspirations and opportunities for black youth. Black excellence is not just about celebrating extraordinary accomplishments but also about recognizing everyday examples of resilience, determination, and positivity within the black community. I believe that incorporating a mandatory black Canadian heritage course in the high school curriculum would be a crucial step in educating students about the true history and contributions of blacks in Canada. This would help fill the gap in passing down this important history to future generations.


Do you think enough is being done to recognize black voices in Catholic Schools?

Anne-Marie: From what I have seen, the Catholic Board is making progress in creating spaces for black voices, but more work still needs to be done. Some ways black voices are included are through racialized teacher groups, a racialized mentorship group for elementary and high school Vice-Principals and Principals, and parent discussion groups facilitated by the superintendent of Equity. While I feel that my voice is heard now that I have a seat at the table, I recognize that there are still staff members whose voices are not being heard because they are not in similar positions. For example, I don't know how much support education assistants and child and youth workers receive. They still need to be comfortable and accepted. Their voices are at the table, so hopefully, one day, all black staff in all divisions will be recognized and feel comfortable speaking up and standing up for what's right. I also like the strategy being employed by school boards, which promises to hire more black staff to ensure more representation in the curriculum. It also promises to provide more antiracism training for staff, reduce the over-surveillance of black students' discipline, strengthen the trust in the black community, and provide mental health support. So, a lot is happening. I would like to see a strategy to reach university students so that they want to come to the Catholic board. Many students face limitations due to the requirement of having a priest's letter, especially those who moved away for university, no longer attend church regularly, or if their priest doesn't know them well. As a result, the Toronto Catholic District School Board loses potential teachers to the public school board, particularly those from racialized communities. It may be beneficial to reconsider this requirement in the future. Nevertheless, I believe that we are making progress within our Catholic School Board.

Follow-up (Bryan): Would you say there are fewer barriers for minorities wanting to become administrators, and what advice would you give students looking to pursue this profession?

Anne-Marie: In high school, as a black student, I felt that the expectation was to go to college. Despite having the grades and qualifications for university, I was only given a college application. I ended up attending college for 3 years and found it too easy and not enough of an academic challenge. This made me realize that I wanted to go to university. I believe that the barriers to applying to university are slowly coming down as people are becoming more vocal and aware of opportunities.

I also think students need to be informed about the different career paths available depending on whether they go to college, university, or into the trades. The courses they take have a direct impact on their future careers. Additionally, the lack of representation of people of colour in my university degree program was noticeable. However, I am glad to see that school boards are now giving interviews to racialized individuals, offering them a different format or special consideration.

In our school board, if you check off that you are racialized when you apply, you are guaranteed an interview, which is a step forward in addressing the barriers faced by racialized individuals. It's unfortunate that in the black community, we still have to consider whether our names will affect our chances of getting a job interview.

Lastly, I believe that high school students need a mentor or someone to support them in the school building. This person could be anyone, but having someone who cares and sets high expectations can make a significant difference in a student's life.


What do you think authentic allyship should look like?

Anne-Marie: I believe that the first step to authentic allyship is acknowledging your position in the world, understanding your unconscious biases, and recognizing your privilege. True allyship involves understanding that not everyone comes from the same background and that everyone has different lived experiences. It's crucial to recognize when your background and experience come from privilege compared to others. True allies listen to the voices of those who might not normally have a seat at the table, listen with an open heart, and are open to hearing different perspectives and receiving feedback. They are also willing to read, research, and understand structural racism without taking things personally. Additionally, a true ally is willing to unlearn things that they've learned. Lastly, true allyship involves action, such as protesting, speaking out against microaggressions, or volunteering for a nonprofit organization to create a more just and equitable society.


How do we empower our staff and racialized students to achieve their goals and embrace their heritage?

Anne-Marie: I believe that empowering staff is crucial. If people are unsure or lack confidence, they may be hesitant to take action. Teachers who feel inadequately educated or informed about certain topics might avoid addressing related issues altogether. Therefore, I believe that providing professional development workshops on equity issues, including race, gender, sexuality, de-streaming, and diversity, is essential. By enhancing their knowledge and comfort level, teachers can engage in courageous conversations about these issues, which is the first step in extending their understanding.

For instance, I have worked on a protocol regarding the N word with our school board. Previously, teachers would ignore students using the word because they didn't know how to address it. However, through conversations about its historical and cultural significance, teachers now have the knowledge and language to handle such situations effectively.

Furthermore, discussing unconscious bias, microaggressions, and the model minority myth can empower teachers to engage in similar conversations with students. Fostering a culture of collaboration and valuing students' knowledge and experiences is also important. Students need to recognize that their knowledge and experiences are valuable and can contribute to positive change.

Additionally, I empower others by actively listening to their concerns and providing meaningful feedback. It is crucial to involve teachers in decision-making processes and support their decisions. Finally, I believe that fostering a positive school climate and treating everyone with respect, kindness, and understanding is of the utmost importance.