By RON FANFAIR
Ontario’s first Black deputy minister, Tom Sosa, ran into a young man at a grocery store one day last month, who reminded him of the major impact he has had on his life.
Sosa developed and introduced the Headstart program for Black students and new immigrants at Warden Woods Public School just over a decade ago.
The initiative, which was a joint project with Centennial College where Sosa served as vice-president of Student Services, Community Relations and Human Resources for five years up until 1998, enabled college staff and faculty to mentor students throughout their secondary school career.
The young man informed Sosa that he graduated from the University of Toronto with honours and is now pursuing his Master’s degree.
“I felt a lump in my throat,” said Sosa, who was one of five recipients of the Consul General’s Diaspora Awards of Excellence presented at the second annual Trinidad & Tobago Republic Day fundraising fashion show and awards gala last Saturday night. “He and the other students that passed through that program were deemed to be at risk and that program helped them.
“When I thought of that story and what you do in terms of community service, it said that volunteering and giving your time to help young kids really pay off in the long run.”
Sosa’s extensive volunteer record in Toronto began in 1963 when he and his wife started the 130th Scout troop in Thorncliffe Park shortly after migrating from Trinidad & Tobago. His community involvement also extended to the Black Achievers program, the West Rouge Community Association, Afropan Steelband, the Subway Academy and West Indies United Soccer Club.
As a deputy minister in both the Ministries of Energy and Skills Development, Sosa led the provincial government’s team in its negotiations with the federal government and coordinated the strategy that resulted in a joint $1.6 billion three-year training agreement with a federal funding increase of 83 per cent.
The former Ryerson University vice-president also directed and promoted a program with school boards to reduce the number of unskilled entry level employees in Ontario’s workforce.
T & T’s Consul General Michael Lashley also presented awards to Rasheed Sultan-Khan, Jeff Henry, Dr. Jameel Ali and the Saaz-O-Aawaaz Academy of Indian Music.
“These awards recognize individuals and groups who have been of great service to others and who have demonstrated excellence in the level of social responsibility they have assumed,” said Lashley.
Sultan-Khan attended Naparima College in San Fernando, performed as a tenor in local music shows and fundraised for needy children before coming to Canada in 1972 with his wife, Feeroze and their five children. He served as chair of the Ontario Muslim Association, founded the T & T 50 Plus Seniors Association of Canada and worked with Thomas Allen Publishers and Chase Manhattan Bank before retiring in 1992.
A professor emeritus and senior scholar, Henry is a theatre professional who has both performed in and taught theatre. He also founded the Black Theatre Workshop in Montreal in 1970 and Theatre Fountainhead in Toronto four years later. As a department Chair at York University, he helped create an exchange program between York and the University of the West Indies for students and faculty.
Ali, who obtained his medical degree from the University of Manitoba in 1966 and his Masters in Medical Education from the University of Dundee, is Professor of Surgery in the University of Toronto’s division of General Surgery, Trauma and Critical Care and Director of the Advanced Trauma Life Support program at St. Michael’s hospital.
He has developed an international trauma training program, which began in T & T as a pilot project, and which has trained physicians in over 50 countries around the world.
The Saaz-O-Aawaaz academy has provided a greater awareness of Indian classical music in Toronto and North America over the past 20 years.
The proceeds accrued from last Saturday night’s fundraiser will go to the Cyril Ross Nursery which serves young people, most of whom are suffering from HIV/AIDS.
“We are here to raise funds for the children of T & T, children who live in an ugly world of HIV/AIDS,” program advisory committee member Ken Jeffers reminded the audience that included members of the CARICOM Consular corps in Toronto, Toronto city councilor, Joe Mihevc and Member of the Provincial Parliament, Bas Balkissoon.
“They too need to know that we care enough to ensure that they have all of the resources to help them enjoy life.”
Lashley presented $28,000 to the nursery after last year’s inaugural fundraiser.
The unique event, titled “Cuttin’ Style”, featured some of the twin-island republic’s top fashion designers and some of their elegant and sophisticated designs, including Claudia Pegus, 2008 Jamaica Observer Style Awards Designer of the Year; Meiling, last year’s Caribbean Fashion Week Grand Master of Fashion Design; Robert Young, Nigel Eastman and Anthony Reid.
“Everybody knows we excel in the field of music but we also excel in the field of fashion as is evidenced by the designers we have here tonight,” Lashley added. “The fashions and textiles you will see are music in motion, colour, contrast and splendour.”