By RON FANFAIR
There are many young Black men in Toronto who face enormous pressure and challenges that, in most instances, could scar them for the rest of their lives.
Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee, Michael Coteau, painted this grim picture in his keynote address at the Canadian Friends St. Thomas Health Care Organization’s 17th annual fundraising brunch last Sunday.
“If you are a young Black man in Toronto, the stats are not in your favour,” said Coteau, who is the trustee for Don Valley East and vice-chair of the TDSB. “There is a 40 per cent chance of you dropping out of school, a 50 per cent chance that you live in poverty and a possibility of you being the ward of the state and a typical Children’s Aid Society client.
“There is also a higher chance of you being diagnosed with a learning disability, prescribed some type of drug, being suspended or expelled from school, being the victim of violence, being arrested or going to jail, and committing murder or being murdered. These are the odds that our young people face.”
Coteau, who has said that he can count more people who died from violent crime in Flemingdon Park where he was raised than graduated from university, challenged the Black community to take ownership of the myriad problems by joining school boards and councils and becoming more involved in the lives of their children and young people in general.
One of two Black TDSB trustees, Coteau was elected in 2003, and one of the first motions he advanced – along with fellow trustee Bruce Davis, who is White – was a proposal for the board to look at student achievement on the basis of race, ethnicity, mother tongue, gender, income and place of residence.
Trustees passed the motion in a close vote, 11-10, to approve the developing of a research program to gather the data.
“That issue made me realize the lack of understanding there was in public education when it came to issues relating to others in the community,” he said. “I remember sitting in boardrooms and hearing trustees subscribing to beliefs that racism doesn’t exist and therefore we shouldn’t put our children into boxes.
“My argument was that our children are in boxes at this point and race does matter when it comes to opportunity and success for our children.”
Over the past decade, the Canadian Friends St. Thomas Health Care Organization and its partners have provided vision care at Princess Margaret Hospital’s eye clinic in Morant Bay, St. Thomas, Jamaica. The clinic is dedicated to the memory of the late Jamaican-born Dr. George Sewell who was the first Canadian optometrist to make the trip to Jamaica in 1999.
The Canadian Friends St. Thomas Health Care Organization has taken an optometrist and an optician to Jamaica for one week each year to provide free vision care for local residents. In the past 10 years, the organization has served nearly 3,000 patients, including 268 on its last visit in January.
“Your organization is worth its weight in gold,” Jamaica’s Consul in Toronto, Nigel Smith, told members at last Sunday’s fundraiser. “Your ongoing efforts in providing quality eye care for the people of eastern Jamaica are not only amazing, but also very heart-warming.”
Funds raised will help purchase a lens edger machine which is used to measure the curvature of an eyeglass lens. The machine cost approximately $17,000.
The organization honoured Valerie Bell, Alton Telfer and Arthur Wynter with Membership awards and presented an Outstanding Vision Care Service in Jamaica award to optometrist, Dr. Thomas Srun. Innova Medical Opthalmics and The Rotary Club of Agincourt and Rotary International were also recognized with a Corporate Citizen and Service Club awards respectively.