The sight of close friends aimlessly wandering down the wrong path and some even succumbing to gun and gang violence moved long-time Jane-Finch resident Antonius Clarke into action. He recognized that there was a need to create a space for youth to engage in positive programs that would prepare them to become useful members of society.
Six years ago, Clarke helped establish the youth-led Friends in Trouble (FIT) organization to provide a platform for youths to collaborate and share their feelings and experiences without any fear of harsh consequences and judgment.
He has also partnered with other community organizations, including the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Promoting Economic Action and Community Health (PEACH) group and Breaking the Cycle which is a gang-exit program to devise approaches to stop the violence.
Last week, the FIT executive director and five other immigrants were named the winners of the 2010 New Pioneers award administered by Skills for Change, a Toronto-based non-profit agency that provides learning and training opportunities for immigrants and refugees to access and fully participate in the workplace and the wider society.
“I had friends who were in trouble everywhere I looked and it seemed they could not get out,” said the Barbadian-born Clarke, who lived in St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines before coming to Toronto in 1990. “I wanted to change that and I was willing to do whatever it takes to engage and empower them and other youths and in the process come up with a holistic approach to heal a broken community.
“I have lost close friends, enough to name, to gun and gang violence.
“It’s a humbling experience to be a recipient of this award…I was a youth that cared. For me, it was not about having fun, but rather about finding myself and making a difference in a community seeking help and alternatives.”
The founding art director of the Association of African-Canadian Artists, Joan Butterfield, who came to Canada from Bermuda in the 1960s and studied in Toronto, New York and Boston, was recognized in the Arts category.
“I am humbled,” said Butterfield who is a member of the board of directors of the Festival Management Committee, which organizes Caribana, and the curator of Caribana’s annual arts exhibition which is hosted by the Royal Ontario Museum. “When the fuss is all over, I will go back to my studio, sit at my canvas, dip my brush into my soul and try to recapture this wonderful moment.”
Butterfield combines the 17th Century art form – Dimensional Decoupage – with current art techniques to create her own unique art form that is a powerful vehicle for inspiring dialogue on contemporary and historical issues.
Her images, which exalt the virtues of the African Diaspora, are displayed in corporate and private collections throughout the world. She has created nearly 8,000 art pieces and participated in myriad solo and group exhibits.
Dr. Jamal Deen, a professor and senior Canada Research Chair in Information Technology at McMaster University, was honoured for his contribution to science and technology. He came to Canada from Guyana in 1986 to accept the post of assistant professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
“Even though I came from a small country, I received a good education and was provided with a solid base to function in a cosmopolitan setting like Canada,” he said.
The 1978 University of Guyana graduate and Fulbright scholarship recipient is a leading expert in the modeling, design and applications of modern advanced semi-conductor devices and circuits.
The other winners are Sam Bouji, Tsering Dolma and Karar Jafar.
A total of 115 immigrants have been recognized with New Pioneer awards since 1993.
“Eighteen years ago, we recognized the need to showcase to the public the outstanding contributions made by immigrants and refugees in the Greater Toronto Area,” said Skills for Change board of directors chair, Catherine Kenwell. “Today, the awards gala has become one of the pre-eminent cultural community celebrations and the Oscars of Diversity because it celebrates the pinnacle of achievement, not of movie stars, but of outstanding newcomers who through their hard work and talent, have made Canada a better place to live.
“Many of the newcomers we have honoured have overcome significant barriers and have made remarkable contributions to their communities and new professional fields.”
Skills for Change’s executive director, Jane Cullingworth, said the awards celebrate the exceptional contributions of newcomers who now call Canada their home.
“This is an outstanding group of people who have made incredible contributions to our community,” she said. “They are just a small part of the community of immigrants and refugees who make this country so great.”
The awards will be presented on February 25 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
Previous winners include Ontario’s Minister of Government Services Harinder Takhar, Toronto Police Service Board chair Alok Mukherjee, artistic director and choreographer Patrick Parson, City of Toronto Diversity Management manager Ceta Ramkhalawansingh and educators Vernon Farrell and Dr. Carl James.