Black Canadian Teen Offered Full College Scholarship After Yearbook Message Replaced With Racist Remark
Joshua Telemaque's community has rallied around him following the hateful act.
October 16, 2020 at 5:02 pm
The leaders of a Catholic school in Canada are under fire after a Black teen had his heartfelt yearbook message replaced with a racist barb, according to CTV News Toronto. But his community is rallying around him and he's since received a full scholarship to the Canadian university of his choosing.
Joshua Telemaque, a teenager attending St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in a town outside of Toronto, was graduating and wanted to include a special message to his grandmother next to his yearbook photo.
The message said, "RIP Grandma. Thank you for guiding me through my four years of high school." The school held a drive-thru event on Saturday to hand out the yearbooks, and Telemaque said he was excited to see the final product.
But in a Facebook post, Telemaque's aunt said his message to his late grandmother was replaced with one comparing him to Harambe, a gorilla who was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo.
"I was hurt, in pain, just sadness. I felt destroyed and heartbroken. It affected me in a lot of ways, but it's just something that I don't want anyone to feel," Telemaque said in an interview with CTV News Toronto on Tuesday.
His mother, Marva Massicot Telemaque, told the newspaper that he was always a good student.
She said her mother, Magdalene Massicot, and her son were very close before she passed away in 2013 from pancreatic cancer, according to The Toronto Sun.
“Joshua and my mom — his grandmother — had a very close bond and that started from when I was pregnant with him. She would always sing and read. From the day he was born, seconds after he came out, he heard her voice and he looked up. It was magical. Even though she’s no longer with us, the bond can’t be broken,” Massicot Telemaque said.
In her Facebook post, Telemaque's aunt, Mayma Raphael, wrote that her nephew has faced racist bullying from students in the past but that no one could have expected the students to take it this far. She said he had been “called a monkey and bullied by some of the kids.”
Raphael also questioned how the school could allow something like this to be officially printed. She noted in her post that the yearbook committee included a teacher and a few students.
Telemaque has since been receiving an outpouring from local community members, sports teams and others. But the school has refused to say how the yearbook could have been printed with the insult and why the investigation into the incident is taking so long.
In a statement on behalf of the Durham Catholic District School Board, Director of Education Tracy Barill said she was "deeply saddened" but did not explain how the yearbook made it through multiple edits.
"We have launched a formal investigation, in collaboration with the Durham Regional Police Services, to ensure that all individuals responsible are held accountable. Those who produce offensive or disrespectful content will be subject to disciplinary action according to the Ontario Schools Code of Conduct and/or applicable policies of the Durham Catholic District School Board," the school's principal, Susan Duane, said in a statement, adding that they have asked for all the yearbooks to be returned.
According to CTV News Toronto, police have already visited the school and spoken with staff members but nothing has been done.
"I just think it should have been looked over before it was printed. I hope the school's investigation will find out what happened and the school board will take a serious look at how they deal with complaints of bullying and protecting my son," Massicot Telemaque said, according to CityWeek.
The school also released a half-hearted apology to "the Black community" but has not released the names of the students responsible for the message and did not say how they will be held accountable.
Community members in Toronto have tried to help by showering Telemaque with love both in-person and digitally. His birthday was on Wednesday, and his family held a drive-thru celebration that was attended by hundreds of people. A GoFundMe page has also been set up for him.
“We’re all standing with him and behind him. What occurred was just a heinous act and not tolerated in this community,” Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan told CP24.
Members of the Toronto Argonauts football team also sent him a video message and the team provided him with a four-year scholarship to any Canadian university or college, according to the Toronto Sun. Telemaque, a star football player on his school's team, was part of a three-month workshop run by the team.
“We’ve been involved in the Huddle Up anti-bullying program for 20 years. We were totally offended by what happened. The fact that he’s a supporter of ours, we wanted to show that we’re a supporter of his,” Argos communication manager Mike Hogan told the Toronto Sun on Wednesday.
“In a strange way this has been both the best and the worst Thanksgiving we’ve ever had. Someone tried to humiliate my son but people from all over the world have come together to support him,” his mother told VICE News.