Hundreds of Grade 6 students in the auditorium chanted his name as he walked in.
It was a hero’s welcome for Leroy Hibbert, invited by the London Police Service to speak about racism on the fourth day of the weeklong VIP (Values, Influences and Peers) program at the Thames Valley District School Board Education Centre on Thursday (Feb. 28).
During a 20-minute presentation he helped define what racism is and gave the students skills and tools to help eliminate the “disease.”
He said the use of racial slurs, jokes and name-calling represent a pervasive form of bullying – intentional or not.
Representing London Urban Service Organizations (LUSO), Hibbert has been a motivation speaker for 14 years. He said in that time attitudes have changed, but there is still work to be done.
“I’ve seen some people become more aware of the diversity in the city,” he said. “But they are also becoming morally corrupt with misinformation. Knowledge is power.”
During his presentation he showed the students racist tweets from fans of the Hunger Games novel series. The comments, which showed dismay that Rue’s character was played by a black girl and not the “blonde, innocent white girl you imagine,” were downright hateful.
That’s in spite of the character being specifically described in the novel as having “dark brown skin.”
“Call me racist,” read one, “but when I found out Rue was black, her death wasn’t as sad.”
It “kind of ruined” the movie, wrote another.
Hibbert warned the students that the spoken word is powerful, and can cut a person up “like meat.”
Between 3,000 and 4,500 students take part in the VIP program each year, according to LPS school safety officer Const. Sandasha Ferguson.
She and four other officers give presentations in London schools year-round, focusing on values and rules, peer pressure, authority figures, drug and alcohol awareness, Internet safety and cyber bullying.
The Grade 6 teachers present units on decision-making, healthy friendships, responsible citizenship, social diversity, community service and interpersonal skills.
Also speaking on Thursday was an employee of the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, a London Health Sciences Centre representative and the LPS K-9 unit.
The event was also spiked by performances by “Duty Calls,” the official rock band of the LPS.