Updated: Aug 7
Former dancer with Kansas City Ballet
My first racist experience comes as a 15-year-old student at the National Ballet School of Canada. That status would soon change. In my third year attending this full-time program at school and living in the dorms, I was a rambunctious little 10th grade teen surrounded by mostly white and white-passing peers, with the few POC peppered here and there for good measure. During this time, I was introduced to Cannabis by someone close to me. I had been experimenting very lightly at this time with a large group of my friends at the ballet school, ducking behind corners to take a puff or two and returning to the residence we called “Rez”. Living in Rez as the only Black boy (I think there may have been one mixed boy as well) was strange and
difficult. From being chastised for things I never did and often had nothing to do with, to my every action being followed on cameras one could not escape from except when in the bathroom. I went through quite a bit here. That’s not to say I didn’t learn amazing things and make some lifelong friends here, there are some amazing pieces of knowledge and wisdom to pull from being there I mean, at the end of the day this is one of them. However, before I go on I would like to reiterate: I was sort of an unruly, turbulent child that apparently could not be “controlled”. That is just not the point here. Or maybe it is, you choose.
After a few months of experimentation here and there, a very good friend and I decided we were ready for a more intense experience with this plant. I procured a large batch of “brownies” from someone I knew during the week and we had planned to eat some for the first time that Friday. The week went by, business as usual, and finally Friday rolls around. We wait until everyone is tucked into their rooms for bedtime, which was around 10:30 pm I guess. My friend sneaks over to my room and we partake in what we had set out to. I won’t go over the details of what went on that night but to make a long story a short one, my friend had a severe panic attack and being the inexperienced users that we were, he insisted he needed the hospital and I knew no better so I let him go.
The next morning, I was awoken by a phone call from my friend’s phone. Assuming it was him, I answered quickly to ask about his health, as I was unaware of the reality of the situation and I did not go to the hospital with him. The next words I hear are not from my dear friend but the director of the residence, Susan. “He hasn’t said anything to us but we know you had something to do with this”. Next thing I know, my friend is back home and the entirety of Rez is on lockdown; rooms being searched one by one. By the end of the weekend something like 14 kids, I included obviously, was in possession of mostly small amounts of Cannabis. 14 different kids. This was a widespread issue, not isolated. That Saturday the group of us who found to be in possession were notified that we would each be having individual meetings the following day with the then and current artistic director Mavis Staines. We remained in lockdown that night. Come Sunday, one by one we are herded towards the director’s office in the main building. One by one I witness as my friends return to Rez from their meetings having signed a probationary contract that supposedly lasted a full year. I was the last of the meetings. As I walked through the school building towards her office, I was filled with dread. I knew that this was going to be uncomfortable but I was in the clear. All my white friends were. As soon as I sit in her office, she made it very clear to me that in light of what happened that Friday, my relationship with the school was to be ended that moment. In a group of about 12-14 white and white-passing kids, I, the only Black boy, who did not try to evade or lie, was expulsed from the school. I remember being devastated and not being the only one. I can’t say all but most felt there was a lack of justice present in this situation.
Years later, I found out that a letter was written by my peers to the director to try and address this gross injustice and reverse the unreasonable decision, to no avail. The boots were dug in. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable speaking on the place this ordeal left me in terms of mental health but it was not good and today I still deal with the trauma of this experience. Later on, I believe out of pity and realizing what they had done, I received a recommendation for a Ballet school in Montreal, Quebec, which ended up being the best possible thing for me at the time. The staff of L’École Supérieur de Ballet du Quebec is incredibly patient and understanding and they played a big role in helping me grow into the man they knew I could be. I am so grateful to that school and owe them a great deal. I had always felt a sense of differentness at Canada's National Ballet School and this is just one more prime example that no matter where you are, as a person of color, specifically a Black person, cannot escape racism on a small or grand scale. As they say, “there’s levels to this shit” and we have been on every single one.
My Favorite Quote:
“Be nice and don’t be scared” -Dave Chappelle
This quote is simple, and I'm all for simplicity. The notion that getting what you want/need is synonymous with acting a certain way towards those around us is very real. The idea that doors of opportunity can close based on how you treat others, is very real. I have been a firsthand witness to this, and over the years I’ve learned that we as artists have a responsibility to lead the way in terms of human conduct and connection. As the ones searching, creating, sharing, and performing what are essentially pieces of ourselves, there is no room for the ego. We must be the ones to show people that it’s ok to revel in our imperfections and vulnerabilities in this one life that we are all given, the same way we lay bare our emotions on the stage or in another medium. I think it is essential that we bring that willingness to be open to our everyday lives. Do it unapologetically and without fear, and I promise that shit will spread!