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Black teen's yearbook tribute to late grandma replaced with racist 'Harambe' message

The teen was crushed when he discovered that his words honoring his grandmother were replaced with the message, "Rip Harambe Dooga booga.O."

Black teen's yearbook tribute to late grandma replaced with racist 'Harambe' message
Cover Image Source: Facebook/Mayma Raphael

A Catholic high school in Ontario has asked all students to return their yearbooks after a Black student's graduation write-up was replaced with what the principal called a "malicious, hurtful and racist" message. 18-year-old Joshua Telemaque — a student at St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School in Pickering, immediately east of Toronto — had submitted an entry paying tribute to his late grandmother which read: "RIP Grandma. Thank you for guiding me through my four years of high school." The teen was crushed when he discovered that his words were replaced with the message, "Rip Harambe Dooga booga.O," in reference to a gorilla that was killed at a Cincinnati, Ohio, zoo in 2016.


Speaking to VICE News about the disturbing incident, Telemaque's mother Marva said her son was "devastated" by the "racial slur" and that she has reported bullying against her son to the school in the past. The teen's aunt Raphael shared more details of the bullying he faced in school in a Facebook post that gained widespread attention. "Folks, racism is alive in Canada. This morning I received a frantic call from my sister, who was very distraught about how my nephew, Joshua, was portrayed in his high school yearbook," she wrote. "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."

Image Source: Facebook/Mayma Raphael

"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. He's now devastated, embarrassed, hurt, and disappointed," Raphael continued. "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? The yearbook committee included a teacher and a few students. 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."


The high school senior's peers were equally shocked by the cruel and racist prank played on him. Simon Persaud, a Grade 12 student at St. Mary's, told CBC that he couldn't believe something like this would happen to Telemaque. "The guy was a really good guy," said Persaud. "He was always really kind and everything, so I don't know why someone would target him directly." Alicia McClymont, who is part of this year's graduating class, described the incident as "disgusting" as she noted that "he got lots of awards for his athletic abilities and to see this happen is just sad."


Meanwhile, Telemaque — who turned 18 last week — said the pain caused by the incident will "be a part of me for a long time; throughout my life, it will always be there." His original message was a tribute to his late grandmother, with whom he shared a special bond with all through his life. "It made me feel very sad and hurt. I remember that feeling. It was a pain in my heart when I saw it," he said. "It felt like my body just froze. I just broke down. Words can't explain it." In a statement, Durham Catholic District School Board apologized "to all individuals who have been impacted by the hurtful, malicious and racist comments" in the yearbook.


"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," said the statement. "Appropriate disciplinary actions and/or restorative justice, will be enacted in accordance with board and Ministry of Education regulations and the law." St. Mary's principal Susan Duane said in a statement the school was "horrified to discover that inappropriate comments were unknowingly published" and issued an apology "to the school community for the offensive, hurtful, and unacceptable nature of these comments." Meanwhile, a crowdfunding campaign has been started for Telemaque to support his post-secondary education.


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