Four years ago, Kwesi Johnson was awarded a Church of the Nativity-administered bursary to help him pursue child and youth work studies in a post-secondary institution.
Johnson graduated from Ryerson University this year with honours and was a Dean’s List gold medal recipient. Knowing the importance of a helping hand, Johnson used some of his limited financial resources to donate a bursary to a deserving student last September.
“It’s something that I will do every year because there might be no tomorrow for a young person out there desperately seeking some help to achieve their goals,” said Johnson who last week was presented with a YMCA Peace Medallion.
The University of Toronto Masters in Sociology and Education student enjoys working with young people the same way he relishes giving back. Born in Guyana, Johnson spent six years in Jamaica before coming to Canada 14 years ago. He soon realized that young people in the Malvern community, where he lived for just over a decade before moving to Markham, needed leadership and direction and he stepped into action.
Gang and gun violence was prevalent and too many youth were disengaged from structured after-school programs at community centres.
Johnson directed a summer day camp, coached basketball and soccer and was a special events coordinator in the community. He also serves on the Malvern Intergenerational After-School Steering Committee, the Malvern Youth Cabinet and the Malvern Community Coalition.
“Kwesi is very community-oriented,” said Annabelle Baisden-Young who nominated Johnson for the award. “He has been a mentor to my kids and many other young people in this area and he has made a big difference here. Even though he doesn’t live in this community anymore, he comes back regularly to work with the youth. He’s driven to help young people and nobody deserves this award more than him.”
Johnson’s community engagement extends beyond the Malvern community. He’s a member of the Toronto Police Service’s Black Community and Police Consultative Committee and vice-president of the Alliance of Guyana Canada Youth Mentorship program.
Former Ontario Cabinet Minister Mary Anne Chambers presented the medallion to Johnson who graduated from Mother Teresa Catholic High School.
Like Johnson, Wendell Adjety has made a difference in the lives of young people in Mississauga. He founded the Forster Terrace After-School program for inner-city youth living in low income and single parent homes and he teaches non-violent conflict resolution techniques through role playing, film and professional workshops.
In the summer, he also runs a reading and basketball clinic at a local high school.
As part of YMCA Peace Week, the YMCA Greater Toronto presents Peace Medallions to exceptional leaders whose work influences and inspires the lives of others in their community.
Donna Cardoza has stood out in this regard. The single mother of two counsels and transport young people to youth meetings and after-school activities, and collects food for the less fortunate.
In 2007, she started the Nubian Book Club at her home. Twice a month in the summer, nearly 80 youths gather at her Markham residence to discuss social issues and their aspirations. Leaders in the community are also brought in to address the students.
“Donna is a very active participant in the lives of young people,” said York Region District School Board (YRDSB) superintendent of education, Cecil Roach. “She’s a big supporter of many of the things we do and she serves as a source of information for parents who are not as involved as she is.”
Cardoza is a member of the Milliken Mills Secondary School parents’ council and the YRDSB Race Relations Advisory Committee.