Black Student's Yearbook Tribute Replaced With Racist 'Harambe' Message

A Canadian high school has launched a police investigation after a Black student's yearbook tribute to his late grandmother was replaced with a racist message.

Joshua Telemaque, a student at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering, Ontario, had wanted his message to say: "RIP Grandma. Thank you for guiding me through my four years of high school."

But in the editions of the yearbook handed out to students on Saturday, the message that was printed read "RIP Harambe Dooga booga.O," an apparent RACIST reference to the gorilla that was shot and killed by a zoo worker in 2016 after a child climbed into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio.

The incident came to light after Telemaque's aunt, Mayma Raphael, shared a picture on Facebook, urging people to call the school and demand officials take action.

Folks, racism is alive in Canada. This morning I received a frantic call from my sister, who was very distraught about...

Posted by Mayma Raphael on Saturday, October 10, 2020

"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 post.

Telemaque said he was devastated when he saw what had been printed in the yearbook. "This is just hurting me. I'm in shock... I've been breaking down, I haven't been myself," he told reporters on Monday afternoon.

"As a Black man, the words that I've seen on that book was very degrading and hurt me a lot right to the heart."

In a letter to students and staff, Susan Duane, the school's principal, apologized for the "malicious, hurtful and racist" comments and said they were "unknowingly published."

Duane said the school has launched a formal investigation with the Durham Regional Police Service to "ensure that all individuals responsible are held accountable."

Those who produce offensive or disrespectful content will be subject to disciplinary action, she added.

Duane said the first step the school is taking is to recall all the yearbooks distributed so far. Students are asked to return their yearbooks on Tuesday, and a full inventory will be taken to ensure every copy is accounted for.

"The traditional St. Mary Catholic Secondary School yearbook is intended to capture fond memories for students and staff," Duane wrote in the letter.

"We are horrified to discover that inappropriate comments were unknowingly published in the 2019-2020 edition. These comments were malicious, hurtful and racist in nature.

"These comments are not a reflection of our mission, vision or values as a Catholic learning environment. We sincerely apologize to the school community for the offensive, hurtful and unacceptable nature of these comments."

In a statement on Monday, the Durham Catholic District School Board's director of education, Tracy Barill, said the board will work with the school to ensure the incident is investigated fully and to "support students and the community in rectifying the harm that has been done."

Barill added: "I am deeply saddened by what has happened and extend my personal apologies to the individuals who have been harmed by the racist and malicious comments made. There is no place for such things in our schools. Racism and hatred hurts our whole community."

Telemaque's mother, Marva Massicot-Telemaque, told CityNews it was unacceptable that the comments were published without the knowledge of school officials.

"I just think it should have been looked over before it was printed," she said. "I hope the school's investigation will find out what happened and the school board will take a serious look at how they deal with complaints of bullying and protecting my son." The family have been contacted for additional comment.

A GoFundMe page has since been set up to raise funds to support Telemaque's education.

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Stock photo. A Black high school student's yearbook tribute to his grandmother was replaced with a racist comment. Getty