Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard made a special visit to Viola Desmond Public School in Ajax on September 17. She toured the new school and spoke to an excited group of junior and intermediate students while she was there.
Senator Bernard is from Nova Scotia and so is the school’s namesake, Viola Desmond. It was very important to Senator Bernard that she visit the school, and she was surprised to find out that some of the students participated in the naming of the school.
“I thought it [naming the school] was a board decision,” says Senator Bernard. “A couple students talked to me about why they recommended Viola Desmond. It warmed my heart and gives me so much hope. There is so much trauma and drama and so much pain and suffering in the world and in our country even, but I always try to look for these kernels of hope. And being here with these students today was a major injection of hope.”
Senator Bernard is an advocate for opposing anti-black racism, and for her and the rest of Canada, Viola Desmond was a civil rights trailblazer. Senator Bernard said that, without the sacrifices that Viola Desmond and others made, she would not be where she is today.
She told the students that even though she is small in stature, “I feel ten feet tall, because I stand on the shoulders of people like Viola Desmond.” Senator Thomas Bernard explained that dealing with racism throughout her life has made her strong and resilient and that she finds allies who share her views and help her along the way.
She encouraged the students to be allies for others and to be supportive. She quoted the school’s mission, ‘Do it the Desmond Way: Creating a community of leaders, allies and innovative thinkers’, and reminded the students that they are all leaders who can make a positive difference in the world.
The students listened to her intently and asked questions afterwards. “It was a pleasure with such engaging students, I wish I had more time to answer all the questions. The fact that they had so many questions, it inspires me,” says Senator Bernard.