TORONTO -- The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is celebrating the launch of the “Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement,” an initiative it calls the first of its kind in public education in Canada.

“It has a variety of ways in which we’ll be engaging — anything from student well-being connected to family, advocacy for parents,” said Karen Murray, the Centrally Assigned Principal of the centre.

The centre will work to make Black students feel a sense of belonging and give them the proper tools for success. It will soon be located at Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute once the building is ready.

Murray says the launch is exciting, because a centre like this has been called on by the community for years. She says it’s needed to help close the education gap that exists.

The TDSB has released extensive data over the years admitting anti-Black racism is deeply entrenched in its schools and in institutions across Canada.

The centre will be supported by at least 20 new staff positions, including a social worker, counsellors and graduation coaches.

Jordin Oppong, 14, was connected to the program earlier this year, before the centre’s official launch.

The Grade 8 student grew up in the Jane and Finch area. She likes her neighbourhood, but feels her community is stigmatized.

She said there is a stereotype that Black people don’t excel “when they come from here, places like here.”

The centre‘s mandate is to help all students succeed.

“It’s [about] how they feel,” Murray said.

“We want to make sure in every school in this board Black students feel like they belong,” she added.

The centre will work to improve graduation rates, encourage higher education, and improve the class curriculum to reflect the lived experiences of Black communities.

Oppong has dreams of being on the big screen one day.

“I’d like to be in TV shows,” she said. “And go on to movies, that’d be really exciting.”