U of T Scarborough hosts the 100 Strong Academy, a summer mentorship program for Black boys

Row of boys playing steel pans in the UTSC Highland Hall event centre.
At U of T Scarborough, boys in the 100 Strong Academy explored activities in STEM, the arts and navigating post-secondary life, all through an Afrocentric lens. (Photos by Ruilin Yuan)

Raquel A. Russell

This summer the University of Toronto hosted over 60 participants in the 100 Strong Academy, a month-long summer program for Black boys between 11 to 14 years old.

“My mom told me about this and said it was for Black boys, so I chose 100 Strong,” says 12-year-old Jeremiah Paradys-Taylor, who was excited to choose the Academy for summer camp. “I felt like I would be more comfortable.”

The 100 Strong Academy summer program is an initiative of the 100 Strong Foundation, a group created by a collective of Black professional men 'with the ultimate aim of uniting young boys with supportive mentors,’ according to the foundation’s website.

The program is one of many ways the U of T Scarborough “partners with local community organizations to create pathways to post-secondary education,” says community partnerships coordinator Jessica Rayne.

Before spending three weeks at their nearest U of T campus, the boys gathered just north of Toronto at the YMCA Cedar Glen campgrounds and Upper Canada College’s Norval Outdoor School for four days of bonding and outdoor activities. Next the group split into three cohorts and spent three weeks at either the Scarborough, St. George or Mississauga campuses, exploring activities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), financial literacy, health and wellbeing, entrepreneurship, the arts and navigating post-secondary education – and at the Scarborough campus, all through an Afrocentric lens.

At U of T Scarborough, the experience kicked off with a welcome message from Vice-President and Principal Wisdom Tettey. The camp activities included talks from faculty and librarians, professional athletes, community partners, as well as spoken word and a hands-on African drumming and Caribbean steel pan sessions, with students also learning about the history of the instruments.

Hands playing a steel pan instrument.
Camp activities for participants in the 100 Strong program included a hands-on African drumming and Caribbean steel pan sessions, with students also learning about the history of the instruments.

Wearing shirts with the Academy’s motto, ‘Excellence without excuses’, students visited The BRIDGE to 3D print life slogans, like ‘Be you’, received their own campus T-Card, shopped at the U of T Bookstore and got an up close and personal look at the famed Black widow spiders in the Andrade Lab.

"The University provides an open atmosphere to hear from so many different perspectives," says Horace Emanuel, one of the 100 Strong Academy facilitators. "The boys really feel like they're part of the community." 

Teams in each cohort also created pitches for the Strong Academy’s ‘Own Your Future’ competition, an opportunity for students to present an idea to create a brand or innovate a product and win a top prize valued at $1000.

Graduates from the 100 Strong Program.
The graduating100 Strong Academy cohort.

To wrap the event, cohorts from all three campuses gathered at Upper Canada College to announce the pitch competition winners – a team from the Scarborough group who pitched a head covering combination made specifically for men to preserve hairstyles – and celebrate the graduating 2022 Academy group. Many are expected to return, whether as participants or as mentors. 

"If I had this before I started university, I would be in a different world right now," says Amanual Bisrat, one of the Community Partnership & Engagement coordinators for the Academy experience and third-year political science student.

Bisrat grew up in Ethiopia, before moving to Scarborough at age 18, finding himself in a new world where he didn’t have much in the way of support. He’s glad to see the boys get familiar with post-secondary opportunities in a way he wished he could have.

Horace Emanuel and Amanuel Bisrat smiling at the camera.
Horace Emanuel and Amanuel Bisrat served as mentors for the U of T Scarborough cohort of the 100 Strong program.

"Seeing the University like this creates a support system for the boys," says Bisrat. "On top of all the tours and knowledge shared, you also get to see all the different Black faces on campus.”

For both Paradys-Taylor and 11-year-old Caleb Smith, this is their first time at U of T Scarborough, and both say they want to attend the University when they're older. Paradys-Taylor intends to study math and play basketball. Smith, who loves language arts, wants to be an engineer.

Jeremiah Paradys-Taylor and Caleb Smith.
Twelve-year-old Jeremiah Paradys-Taylor and 11-year-old Caleb Smith want to attend U of T Scarbrough when they're older.


Whatever path they choose, Emanuel says the mentorship team will always be there when needed, and now that the boys have "built these connections," he says they can also call on each other. 

"Like one of our speakers said – we do this together,” says Emanuel