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Stand Up Young Men

A Black mentor speaks in front of a crowd of students at the Stand Up Conference.

Success in a different colour: 10 years of the
Stand Up Young Men’s Conference

By Shellene Drakes-Tull


For 10 years, TDSB Principals Gary Crossdale and Ainsworth Morgan have hosted the Stand Up Young Men’s Conference, which pairs young male students from all backgrounds with more than 50 Black male mentors — entrepreneurs, lawyers, businessmen, small business owners, and more — for a day of learning and sharing.

“Whether you’re white, brown, Black in that crowd of kids and you’re seeing all these men in front of you that are very successful, you see that success can look different,” explains Gary. “For the kids who look like these men, they can aspire to be like them. Even if you don’t look like them, you can still aspire to be like them.”

Gary and Ainsworth were both working in Regent Park — Gary as a Principal and Ainsworth a teacher — and a lot of Black male students struggling, disengaged and not reaching their potential. Gary had the idea to create a conference where boys were mentored by successful Black men.

Gary asked Ainsworth to find Black male mentors to participate. “I told him getting mentors is the least of your worries — there’ll be more than enough men who want to do this,” says Ainsworth. “It’s great to see the men who continually come back each year because not only is it important for them to connect with the young people here, but with each other.”

A mentor speaks as three young Black students look on at the Stand Up Conference

Getting the blueprint for success

Raphael Fixton Waugh, an officer with the Toronto Police Service, has been the Stand Up in-house deejay since the beginning. “Changing the colour of success has always been the theme of Stand Up,” he explains. “In my job as a police officer, the majority of officers are white males. By these youths coming to see that they are Black men in all those fields, it shows them that they can do it too. They can grow up in Regent Park and become a police officer or teacher or lawyer or doctor or whatever the case. The sky’s the limit.”

Community outreach worker Kenneth Slater agrees. “Stand Up gives the students an opportunity to come and see all the people here are men of colour. You leave with the impression that it’s possible to live in Regent Park and do great things in life. These mentors have given us some of the blueprint on how to do that.”


The two conference organizers pose for the camera

The strength of Black male mentors

At the conference, held in May, you could feel the energy percolating as the students made their way into the auditorium. Ontario Superior Court Justice Donald McLeod opened the day by singing the national anthem.

TDSB Executive Superintendent, Equity and Engagement, Jim Spryropoulos addressed the students and teachers, focusing on the mentors. “Thank you for giving us what you have and please continue to keep coming because I know, just by looking at you sitting here and then by listening to your voices, these young men may feel that they have another caring adult in their lives. And that will automatically improve the trajectory that they’re on towards future success.”  

A neighbourhood officer with the Toronto Police Service in the Regent Park area, Edward Parks has been a Stand Up mentor for five years. “Being a man of colour, this uniform is huge,” he says. “There’s an individual behind the uniform that is the same as they are, who’s has been through the same experiences that they’ve had, who’s had the same struggle. If I did it, they can do it.”

Neil LeGrande has been a Stand Up mentor since 2009. He hosted a goal setting workshop this year. “Even though it’s a small session, hopefully the students can learn from my mistakes,” he explains. “Don’t do that, I’ve already done it—it doesn’t work. Stay in school, that’s the important thing. Get an education. When you have that, it’s going to open up so many doors. If you don’t have an education, those opportunities aren’t there.”

A TDSB student listens to a speaker at the Stand Up Conference.


 What did our students say?

“I learned from the people speaking that you have to give everything you do your hardest effort to get the best things in life. I also learned that you should let go of your past and bad experiences.”

-Allan Zong, Grade 7, Sprucecourt Public School

 “I learned so much at the Stand Up Young Men’s Conference. I learned that it’s better to be yourself than to be someone else. I also learned that it’s very difficult to move on in life, but if you keep going, you will reach your goal.”

-Arch Russel Roque, Grade 8, Sprucecourt Public School


 “At the Stand Up conference, I learned the meaning of being the best you. During the conference we learned the many types of success criteria and how to prepare yourself for the future. We also learned that success can’t always come from being perfect.”

-Ridwan Ahmed, Grade 7, Sprucecourt Public School


“It was important to participate so we could talk to people with a higher knowledge to help us set our future paths. We get to know how to choose good paths and avoid bad paths.”

-Daneil Wang, Grade 7, Sprucecourt Public School




A lover of stories and a wordsmith, Shellene Drakes-Tull has been a communicator in both the corporate world and in media for more than 15 years. Through telling the stories of TDSB students and educators, she hopes others are inspired to create more equitable, anti-racist and anti-oppressive school environments.

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