Child and youth worker, Sherie Gayle, still feels the piercing effect of the bullet that claimed the life of 15-year-old St. Aubyn Rodney in a third-floor apartment in the Jane & Finch community last month.
As part of the multidisciplinary team providing services to enhance school performance and improve academic achievement in the Toronto District School Board, Gayle ensured that the teenager stayed on the right path for the three years she worked with him at Oakdale Park Middle School before he moved on to high school two years ago.
“I went through a period of depression for almost three weeks after his death,” said Gayle, who was recognized with a Woman of Courage honour at the third annual International Women Achievers’ Awards last Saturday night. “It was really hard losing that boy because, with more guidance, I firmly believed he would have become a lawyer. He was sweet, caring and funny and I never saw him upset. In fact, when I was not having a good day, he would be the one asking, ‘Miss, where is the smile?’”
Gayle said Rodney was one of the few students who challenged teachers when he received a negative mark.
“He always asked for an explanation,” said Gayle, who helped the youth’s mother with his funeral. “Of all the young people I have worked with, he touched my heart the most because we lost him in such tragic circumstances.”
The expectant mother of three said she was stunned by the recognition.
“I have always had a passion for working with young people and I give from the heart without expecting anything back in return,” said Gayle, who migrated from Jamaica two decades ago. “Youths need love, nurturing and support. I use my motherly instincts to guide them.”
Dr. Patience Ekeocha and Sonia Patterson-Hirsch were just as surprised as Gayle at their nominations. Dr. Ekeocha is the assistant medical director at Morgan State University Health Centre in Maryland and Patterson is a 15-year Florida resident who has been giving back to her Port Antonio community in Jamaica for the past 13 years.
“This is my first award, so I am ecstatic,” said Patterson-Hirsch, who is the president and chief executive officer of Patterson Youth Support and Samaritan Club that organizes the Portland Jamaica Curry and Gospel festivals and the Mini-Miss Port Antonio Jamaica. Funds accrued from the events help to buy educational materials for Boundbrook Primary School – Patterson’s alma mater – and Port Antonio Primary School.
A graduate of the State University of New York in Buffalo, Towson University and Rocky Mountain University, Ekeocha served in Nigeria’s national youth service program and created HIV awareness programs and provided medical care for people suffering from the disease in Imo State in the south of Nigeria.
“This award means a lot because it tells me that people outside the U.S. where I live and Nigeria where I am known recognize the work I am doing,” said Ekeocha. “I am overwhelmed by this honour.”
Organized by Peel community worker, Princess Boucher, the annual awards recognize women around the world who are excelling in myriad spheres.
This year’s recipients included Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who was the recipient of the Changing Lives Award. After being the first woman to serve as attorney general, acting PM and opposition leader, she was sworn in as the twin-island republic’s first female PM in May, 2010.
Other award winners included Jones & Jones Production co-founder, Denise Jones (Supportive Partner); 2012 Olympic trampoline gold medalist, Rosie MacLennan (Youth Leadership); Kay Morris (Woman of Distinction), Lisa Alexander (Volunteer), TolumiDE (Entertainment), Joanna Doung (Entrepreneur), Beth Bow (Academia), Paula Gonzales (Role Model), Rev. Rosenda James (Community Leadership), Tre Armstrong (Positive Impact), Simone Banton (Diversity), Carrie Mullings (Media), Pam Hundal-Bhangal (Business) and Rosemary Sadlier (Lifetime).
Queen’s University medical student, Idara Edem, was the recipient of the Most Likely to Succeed Award, while academic awards were presented to 15-year-old John Polanyi Collegiate Institute student, Sakaana Yasotharan and 13-year-old Oakdale Park Middle School student, Velda Bonsu.
By RON FANFAIR