The setting was different for more than 200 Grade 11 and 12 students from the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods one day recently.
Their classroom was the Bank of Montreal Institute for Learning in Scarborough and the majority exchanged their sneakers and other casual wear for business suits and dress shoes.
They were privileged to be chosen from Toronto’s public and catholic schools and the York Region District School Board for the fourth Black Business and Professional Association’s (BBPA) Leaders of Tomorrow conference which exposes young people to career and business opportunities in the business and technology sectors.
“I was very excited when my teacher nominated me and I am more excited now that I am here among my peers to be part of what is a lifetime opportunity,” said Archbishop Romero Catholic Secondary School student, Shaniqua Richards. “This is a great chance to meet professionals in technology and business who will share information with us.
“My career goal is to be a fashion designer so it’s my intention to do some networking with people who are in the business world and find out what has made them successful. I want to be just like them.”
Richards’ schoolmate Chrishawn Thomas was also happy to be selected.
“There are three career paths that I am looking at right now,” said the 17-year-old. “I want to get into either teaching, corporate law or financial advising. By the time I leave here today, me expectation is that I will be able to narrow my choices based on the expert information I receive…I know I am going to be motivated today by leaders in the business world who look like me.”
Conference chair Julia Nyarko said Grade 11 and 12 students were targeted because they are entering the decision-making stages of their lives when they will be making critical career choices.
“We want them to have all the pertinent information they can use to help them as they pursue post-secondary education,” said 24-year-old Nyarko, who came to Canada with his parents at age five and is employed as a sector adviser with the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade’s automotive strategy branch.
“This is such a wonderful stage for young people because they will meet professionals who can become their mentors and role models. When I was in Grade Six, I identified with the late Dr. Martin Luther King because of his humility and leadership. As I got older, prominent Black American Reginald Lewis was my role model. He and King made a big impact on my life and where I am today. I hope these young people seize this opportunity to start building social networks and looking at people they can identity with. They could do this starting today.
“We want them to leave this conference with the confidence that they can succeed. We also want them to know this is an investment in their future. We hope this exercise allows them to get all the answers to any and every question they might have.”
BBPA National Scholarship Fund chair Harriet Thornhill challenged the young people to make the best of the unique opportunity.
“This conference is for you and about you,” said Thornhill, who holds an MBA and is a regional vice-president of Royal Bank of Canada. “We want you to be as prepared as possible for the future that is ahead of you because you are the leaders of tomorrow. In whatever capacity you choose to operate, you will be a leader.
“I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself that if you are going to leave here at the end of the day with at least one thing, let it be something that you can apply in your life starting tomorrow. You can make a difference and you can achieve your dreams.”
In addition to participating in an executive lunch and a post secondary education and career fair, the students also took part in workshops that focused on interview skills, business etiquette, professional conduct and best practices, money management, the intricacies of corporate culture and career possibilities, cutting edge advancements in technology and strategic life mapping.
Emery Collegiate principal Icilda Elliston and her daughter Kareena, who is pursuing her MBA, conceived the idea for the conference.