CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province’s Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.
Leo Scantlebury has walked the corridors of Howard S. Billings Regional High School for more years than its current student population has been alive.
From student, to teacher, and now to vice-principal, Leo Scantlebury has devoted much of his life to the high school in Châteauguay, Que., on Montreal’s South Shore.
As far as he’s concerned, he’s got a lot more to give. He’s determined to help improve the school and enhance its reputation.
Scantlebury graduated from Howard S. Billings in 1989, returning two decades later, in 2008, to teach physical education, math and ethics, as well as to coach several sports teams.
He was named to his current role in 2019.
“I’m usually the big guy when it comes to discipline in the school,” said Scantlebury. It’s a role for which he said he’s well-suited.
“It’s a little bit easier for me to be a disciplinarian here because I have the respect of all the students.”
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of that role, he said, due to the strain it has put on both students and staff.
“I’m always ready to help and listen to the kids,” he said. “But I am also here to help the teachers, as well.”
Scantlebury is “very mindful” of the fact that he’s a leader in a school with a large Black population — as far as he knows, the first Black person in a senior administrative role at the New Frontiers School Board.
“A lot of the kids are of a West Indian background, African background, so it’s easy to relate to them. I understand a lot of their struggles,” he said.
“I try to be kind of like a role model to all of the kids, as well to let them know that I’m here for them.”
Scantlebury said his experience coaching high school athletes has helped him in his role as vice-principal, and it’s why he’s “not usually yelling and screaming” when handing out detentions or other forms of punishment.
“You’ve got to be able to reach kids when you’re coaching, to help them [attain] their potential,” he said.
“It’s the same with discipline…. You [may] want to throw the book at them, but you want to feel for them as well. You’ve got to remember that they’re kids.”
Scantlebury loves his school and the community he grew up in.
“I’m proud that I’m a part of Châteauguay, and I’ve been a citizen in Châteauguay for 50 years,” he said.
“To see all of the Black people that are moving into Châteauguay and coming to our school, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m very proud of it.”
The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.