Young Jibril Simmons could only watch helplessly with the rest of his family as his uncle Mark Simmons, who was left brain dead after being involved in an accident with a drunk driver eight years ago, was taken off a respirator.
The elder Simmons was close to his nephew, who vowed that he would become a neurosurgeon long before he entered high school.
“That became my area of interest because I wanted to know everything about how the brain functions,” said the Richmond Hill High School graduate, prefect and French tutor who was one of 16 academic achievers recognized with Markham African Caribbean Association (MACA) scholarships last Saturday night. “I want to find a way to help people who are brain dead.”
The honour roll student, who graduated with an 88 per cent average, is well on his way to achieving his career goal. He plans to attend medical school after graduating from the University of Toronto where he is a first-year student in the Life Sciences program.
Simmons was also presented with the Allon McKenzie memorial award bestowed on a student who best exemplifies leadership, community involvement and the best and brightest that society has to offer.
McKenzie, who founded MACA in 1987 and served as the organization’s second president a year later – Audrey Mayer was the first – died in a tragic accident in 1995. His family launched the award in his name a decade ago.
“My father used his personal values and beliefs of unconditional love, acceptance, understanding, humility and philanthropy to inspire others to become prominent leaders with a legacy to leave for future generations,” said Sophie McKenzie, MACA’s director of Health and Social Issues, who made the presentation. “He also had a profound belief in community involvement and the education of our young people and he really wanted to make his community and the world a better place.”
MACA scholarships were also presented to Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy graduates Sandra Kyei, Nneka Nwaogu and Phebe Quaye; Middlefield Collegiate Institute graduates Christa Young and Nicole Green; Shanice Yarde and Anthony Morris who graduated from Woodbridge Collegiate; Abdi Aidid (Vaughn Secondary); Jody Allen (Dr. John M. Denison); Justin Bailey (Milliken); Michael Ifejica (Unionville); Christina Lawrence (Dr. Norman Bethune); Winnie Phillips-Osei (Emily Carr); Therese Owusu (Brother Andre Catholic) and Keriann Tingling (Maple High).
Kyei, who aspires to be a surgeon, is enrolled in the McMaster University Life Sciences program; Nwaogu, who graduated from high school with an 88 per cent average, is studying Biomedical Sciences at York University; Quaye, who helped fundraise to build a school in Peru, is attending the U of T; Young aspires to be a child care and youth worker and Green, who excelled in music and athletics in high school, is pursuing a double major in Architectural and Urban Studies at the U of T.
The student council president in her final year in high school, Yarde is enrolled in the U of T Life Sciences program; Morris is pursuing Media Studies at Humber College; Aidid graduated with a 90 per cent average and mentored young people in the Jane & Finch area before entering the U of T Faculty of Arts & Science; Allen is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing at Ryerson University; Bailey is enrolled in the University of Windsor Psychology program and Ifejica – a member of his high school Frisbee team and a Senior Boys Athlete of the Year winner – is pursuing Mechanical Engineering studies at McMaster University.
Lawrence, who volunteered in the MACA summer reading program, is enrolled in Carleton University’s Communications Studies program; Phillips-Osei attends Ryerson University where she’s majoring in Criminal Justice studies; Owusu aspires to become a lawyer after finishing English studies at the U of T and law school and Tingling, who plays five musical instruments and was president of her school’s music council, is enrolled in the U of T Life Sciences program.
Jamaican-born motivational speaker Larry Johanson delivered the keynote address at the 22nd annual awards ceremony. He congratulated the scholarship winners and encouraged them to become achievers with character.
“There are people like Bernie Madoff and Kenneth Lay who achieved great things in their lives, but they had fatal flaws in their character,” said Johanson, who has a Master’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Windsor. “On the other hand, there were people like Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela who have demonstrated under difficult circumstances that they were able to maintain their vision, integrity, humility and compassion.
“Mandela went to prison and he came out stronger and determined and at the same time he extended reconciliation and forgiveness to the people who were his oppressors and avoided a bloodbath…So my message to young people is to go out and achieve and be great and fantastic but remember that character counts for much.”
MACA paid tribute to supporter and regional councillor Tony Wong who died last June and Bill Hogarth who retires at the end of the year after serving for the past 16 years as York Region District School Board Director of Education.