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Newfoundland doctor calls out racism in small neighborhood, vows to counter it

A physician in small-town Newfoundland has decided to stay in the community after sparking a conversation about racism following an incident involving his daughter.

In a Facebook post in early November, Dr. Gerges Ambarak wrote passionately about what he felt was a racially motivated attack on the teen at her school in Lewisporte.

“This is only racism and discrimination which no one of you can tolerate or accept,” he wrote. “Two years now and we are suffering from this discrimination.”

In an interview with Global News, Ambarak says his daughter had been called names and bullied at her school over several years but school officials did nothing to stop it. Then on Nov. 9, he was called to Lewisporte Intermediate School after an altercation occurred.

“She was crying and she had some superficial injuries to her face,” he says.

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The same day, he says he received this text from an unknown number threatening harm, addressing him as “Mr. Black.”

Newfoundland RCMP confirm officers charged a youth with assault in connection with the incident at the school.

Ambarak and his wife, Dr. Heba Gergis, are both physicians in the town, and in his online post, the native Egyptian said he was considering moving his family away.

“We sacrificed the work-life balance to help you,” his post says. “We worked the weekends to overcome the waiting list.”

He tells Global News he wrote the post to gauge community reaction.

“I tried to know, what is the reaction of the public, does the public have the same point of view, that we are Black, we are immigrant, we are not supposed to be here?” he explains.

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His words online brought forth a flood of support from throughout the community and the province. He says he even received a call from Premier Andrew Furey.

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A day later, Lewisporte’s mayor issued a statement, denouncing “all forms of racism, stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination as well as violence resulting in an unsafe environment.”

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“We support all individuals and families and continue to endeavor to eliminate such barriers and inequalities in our community,” the statement said.

Mayor Krista Freake tells Global News in an interview that “we do have to recognize that the incident did take place and we certainly don’t support that, we support all families who might be encountering these pieces or who are struggling right now,”

“As a council, we’ve certainly agreed to reflect on where we are, determine is this an issue in our community, and who are our partners in addressing this issue, such as the Association for New Canadians, for example,” Freake says. “There are people out there and organizations out there who can assist us in moving forward.”

One anti-racism activist in the province says this wasn’t an isolated incident.

“It was really the inadequacies of the school system and the community as a whole that really concerned me,” says Sobia Shaikh, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition NL.

She says the organization has recommended changes in the school system for better prevention and intervention.

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But she says ARC-NL’s recommendations, developed over the past several years, have been largely ignored.

“We’ve been asking for education of teachers, all school officials, all ministry (and) Department of Education folks, in racial literacy … to develop policies with families who are racialized, immigrant, Black, (and) Indigenous,” she says.

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“And if we don’t deal with this, people are going to say, ‘Well, we can get better support in other communities, we are going to leave.’”

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The province’s Education Department says it does strive to ensure schools are safe and that “there is no place for racism in schools.”

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson points to the department’s Safe and Caring Schools Policy as providing guidance to schools “in the development and maintenance of a safe, caring and inclusive learning environment.”

“The policy is responsive to the ongoing needs of the school environment, however a formal policy review and update is currently underway,” they say.

After taking his daughter away from Lewisporte for a week to visit family in Egypt, Ambarak made another online post, this time announcing he had decided to stay in the community. His daughter is back at school.

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“This decision came … (to teach) people and my kids that love is the most important,” he tells Global News. “We have to take care of the community where we live.

“This is the message from me to everyone. And I hope the public can understand what I did.”

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&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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