SHINE Club is a safe space for children of colour at school.

Every week, students meet up at lunch. They eat and have discussions about topics like skin colour, culture and more before wrapping up with some fun.

“The whole thing is about empowerment, it’s about hope,” said V. Ophelia Rigault, who conceived the idea for SHINE Club.

Rigault said the idea that eventually became SHINE Club came to her after an incident when her niece, Juliana, was discriminated against because of the colour of her skin.

“I just started to work with her, and then I thought, there are other kids who might be experiencing this,” she said.

Thus, SHINE Club was born.

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Just one year into it the program is already in multiple schools in Belleville, Trenton and Kingston.

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Rigault said it’s good to have fun but the impact of what they’re doing is much deeper.

“They’re also learning that it’s not something wrong with them, it’s a bigger picture. They’re feeling ‘oh, it’s not me being a black child that there’s something about me’, it’s systemic racism,” she said.

For the kids, the lessons they’re learning and the acceptance they feel is invaluable.

“It taught me confidence and how to stand up for yourself,” said nine-year-old Karen Chisumo, who has been going to SHINE Club since it began. “So if they feel something bad or sad, you just say are you okay or say can I hug you,” added eight-year-old Natenael Almue, who joined in December.

On Friday the kids read a book about being comfortable in your own skin no matter what colour.

With lunch and discussion wrapped up, it was time for a little more fun as the kids got active and learned about Latin dance.

Rigault said that SHINE Club is just one piece of a bigger picture when it comes to helping racialized kids have their voices heard and their needs met.

“How can we empower these kids? We know that our society is a society that we need to build equity. It’s in our laws, it’s in the policies of the school. How can we intentionally do this? The SHINE Club does an aspect of that,” she said.

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As for the future of SHINE Club, Rigault said her hope is to not only expand into more schools, but even potentially to take SHINE Club outside of school hours, offering it to a wider audience of people who may need a place to be themselves.

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