Joshua Telemaque, a Canadian high school graduate, has been receiving an outpouring of support from his community and beyond after his yearbook message paying tribute to his deceased grandmother was replaced with a racist quote.
The incident gained coverage after Mayma Raphael, the aunt of the St. Mary Catholic Secondary School graduate, shared a photo of the yearbook in question on Facebook, demanding those behind it to be held accountable and for the books to be recalled and reprinted. She also highlighted the issue of racism in the country and how her nephew – a star athlete – had been racially targeted by bullies during his four years in the school.
According to Raphael, Telemaque’s submitted entry for the yearbook was supposed to be “RIP Grandma. Thank you for guiding me through my four years of high school”, but instead, the quote was replaced with “Rip Harambe Dooga booga.O.” Harambe refers to the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla that was shot by officials during an incident in 2016.
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“In the past, he’d been called a monkey and bullied by some of the kids at St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Pickering, Ontario, but never thought that they would have taken it this far,” Raphael wrote in her October 10 post. “Even though he has never caused any school issues or had any disciplinary actions against him, a star athlete at the school, excelling in football, basketball, and track and field — all this didn’t shield him from racism’s emotional and psychological impact.”
Raphael said the incident left her nephew “devastated, embarrassed, hurt, and disappointed.”
“Since this was his final year at the school, he was really looking forward to his yearbook. Now his memory of his time at the school is forever ruined. How can something like this happen?” she asked.
“This cruel act echoes the many incidences of racism that many Black Canadian kids experience throughout their time in the education system. The school needs to take action to get this situation fixed. Our kids are suffering way too much,” she concluded.
Folks, racism is alive in Canada. This morning I received a frantic call from my sister, who was very distraught about…Posted by Mayma Raphael on Saturday, October 10, 2020
In an interview with CTV News Toronto, Telemaque re-echoed his aunt’s sentiments, saying he couldn’t “describe the amount of hurt” he felt after receiving a copy of the yearbook, adding that the incident left him sad.
“I feel hurt really hurt for him. He didn’t deserve any of this,” his mother, who also described the incident as “horrific”, said. “He’s a very good son, he’s a good student he’s always been good.”
Following the controversy, the school sent a letter to parents of the students apologizing for the quote. The Durham Catholic District School Board also released a statement calling the incident an “offensive act of misconduct, disrespect and racism”, and said they were investigating it and had also reported it to the police.
“In a time where we are taking intentional steps to address systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism, we would like to extend a direct apology to the Black community that we serve,” the statement read. “We recognize that words cannot repair the hurt that these comments have caused, and the horrific experience this has been for families and friends within the school community and beyond. This offense is not acceptable in our schools, nor is it a representation of our Catholic values and core commitment to equity.”
The superintendent of education at the Durham Catholic District School Board, Susie Lee-Fernandes, also told CTV News Toronto they involved the police because they believe the incident was racially motivated.
“Anything that is racially motivated, a racist comment I guess in my eyes, I would say that that is a hate crime… which is exactly why we did call in the police at that time,” Fernandes said.
The school principal, Susan Duane, also released a statement on October 11 condemning the incident and said a formal investigation had been launched. Duane also said the yearbooks, which were given to the students during a Diploma/Yearbook/Awards drive-thru pick up at the school the day before, had been recalled.
Though the incident left Telemaque shaken up, he has received rousing support from the community and beyond. To celebrate his 18th birthday on October 14, the Pickering high school graduate was surprised with a full-college scholarship gift from former Canadian football player Pinball Clemons and the Toronto Argonauts, Global News reports. The scholarship covers any college of Telemaque’s choice.
A GoFundMe that has also been set up to help raise funds to cover his post-secondary education has so far raised over $13,000. The mayor of the town of Ajax also presented him with a certificate from the town council to celebrate his birthday.
“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,” Telemaque’s mother told VICE News.