By Louis March
ACHA is a non-profit and community supported organization, which operates a curriculum-based heritage program for families with children from five – 16 years of age. The programs objectives are achieved by including the seven principles of Kwanzaa in all the activities and events. The children are taught about the history of African people in Canada, Africa and the Diaspora. They learn this through the media of creative arts, classroom instruction and other real life applications.
The African Canadian Heritage Association started out as the Black Heritage Program in 1969. It was first located in a church basement in the Thorncliffe Park area of East York. The program was formed by concerned African Canadians who thought it was necessary to provide Black children with an avenue to learn Black history.
In 1975, the program moved to Valley Park Middle school in East York and remained there for over 20 years. In 1989, the name of the program was changed to the African Canadian Heritage Association to reflect the African heritage of all Black Canadians regardless of where in the Diaspora, they may have been born.
Due to government cutbacks and subsequent financial challenges in 1998, the program ended it relationship with Valley Park and moved to the Harbourfront Community Centre. After four years at Harbourfront….the program moved to our current location at Centennial College – Progress Campus in Scarborough. .Centennial College has opened the college facilities to ACHA and we continue to build on the partnership that we have established.
We are proud of the students that have attended the ACHA program. Many of the graduating students have moved on to successful careers in our community. Some have continued to work in the program, either as teachers, advisors and supporters. Several of the students have won Harry Jerome awards for community service. They include Aisha Wickham at Flow 93.5, Francis Jeffers at Visions of Science, Veronica Sullivan, current ACHA program coordinator and Amanda Robinson, a communications student currently in university. Paulette Senior, who recently ran for city counselor in the municipal elections, was also a student in the program and she continues to support the program in various ways.
ACHA is a self-sufficient and self reliant non-profit association. All the program funding comes from registration fees and fundraising activities that are scheduled throughout the program year. The major fundraising activity is an annual walkathon that usually generates about 50% of the funding required for the program. Other fundraising activities include an annual brunch, event raffles, t-shirt sales and at times, donations from program supporters.
SOME PROGRAM ACTIVITIES
CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION: The students are separated into specific age groups with assigned teachers that move from class to class depending on the day’s program. We have a dance instructor and we have parents that help the teachers with their instruction.
ANNUAL WALKATHON: Our major fundraising activity. Last year, we added a different twist as the walkers wee introduced to the Underground Railroad. A 5K route was plotted in the backwoods at Centennial College, along with slave helpers such as Harriet Tubman, and also some slave catchers. The walkers had to follow a route in search of a ‘safe house’ and to maneuver throughout some interesting obstacles.
HIKE AND FARM VISIT: The students and parents travel to Rattlesnake Point in Milton for a 2 hour hike along the Bruce Trail. When they finish the hike, they get to relax at Andrews Scenic Areas farm with hay rides, hot apple cider, corn and pumpkin picking, and for the parents….wine tasting.
KWANZAA SHOW: Our annual show features the students doing stage performances that celebrate the seven Kwanzaa Principles. The community is invited to participate in the show, which also features a communal lunch and an African market place.
AFRICAN HISTORY CHALLENGE: The students are separated into competing teams and they are tested on classroom material and current affairs.
ENTREPRENEUR’S DAY: The students get an opportunity to practice the Kwanzaa Principle….Ujamaa which represents cooperative economics. They develop a business idea in teams or individually and they sell their services or products on a specified day. All revenues minus their expenses are used to help finance the annual youth retreat.
SPRING BRUNCH: Another one of our major fundraising events that usually concludes the school year. It features ACHA students on stage, community talent, recognition awards, an African market place, a raffle and much more. This is usually the highlight of the year, while at the same time being saddest day of the year. Students and parents get to say their goodbyes, as the program closes down for the summer break.
YOUTH RETREAT: The 13+ aged students go north for their weekend and year-end retreat. The teachers prepare a challenging program that allows the students to learn valuable life skills that will help them with personal development.
PARENT WORKSHOPS: Parents are encouraged to actively participate in the program each Saturday. Workshops are organized around a series of topics that the parents have shown an interest in. Topics include financial planning, health and nutrition, family planning, current affairs, ancient African history and at times…..movie days with thought provoking subject material.
Parents of students in the program, play a crucial role in ensuring the program’s survival. Not only do they bring their children to the program each Saturday, they help with curriculum and program development. A lunch roster is prepared at the beginning of the year for parents to prepare lunch for their specified days. Lunch is served to all the students, parents and teachers. It comes in various shapes and forms, with an emphasis on health worthiness and quality.
The program is constantly under review. Despite a successful formula…..we have to continue to assess how the program meets the objectives of the student and parents. Teaching history is a major component of the program, but we realize that the student require much more, including life and social skills that will help the students to succeed in their careers and, generally in life. As a result of a recent assessment, one parent suggested that the program add an athletic fun activity to the curriculum. The parents and teachers reviewed his proposal and decided to try it out. The athletic fun activity was added this year and so far, it has been a tremendous success.
Finally, students are always welcome to join the program, even if they have missed the enrollment day in September. The curriculum is flexible enough, to allow learning and development opportunities throughout the year.
How to Reach the African Heritage Association?
Centennial College – Progress Campus (941 Progress Avenue) Room F2-09
Program is in session on Saturdays from 12:00noon to 4:00pm during the school year (September – June)
African Canadian Heritage Association
PO Box 99576
1095 O’Connor Drive