Spoken word artist Dwayne Morgan has performed for Canada’s Governor General Michaëlle Jean, shared the stage with many of Canada’s top hip hop and R & B artists, travelled extensively through North America, Europe and the Caribbean, written seven books, produced a CD and garnered several awards.
Last March, he signed a deal with Montreal-based francophone publishers – Adage-Edition – for three books of sensual poetry.
Morgan is on top of the world, but he has not forgotten that it was Tropicana Community Services Organization (TCSO) – the largest Black social service delivery agency in Canada — that provided him with a ladder to ascend the lofty heights.
He was introduced to the organization while in high school and it was TCSO that supported him with funding for his first book in 1995.
“I stand here before you as someone who has benefitted tremendously from the investment that Tropicana made in me,” he said at the organization’s 17th annual Caribbean Ball last Saturday night. “Had it not been for this organization, I would not have gone on to achieve many of the things I did and that’s the reason why I always try to give back to this organization.”
University of Windsor Sociology graduate Richard Daniels-Lee has also benefitted from TCSO in a big way.
“I attended their Saturday school and it was during those sessions that I was made to understand that there are people who believed in me and expected much of me,” said Daniels-Lee who is a youth worker with the organization. “Settling for second best was simply not an option.”
Morgan and Daniels-Lee are among close to 200,000 young people whose lives have been positively affected by TCSO since the late Robert Brown spearheaded the agency’s formation in March 1980 to serve disadvantaged young people and their families.
Through its diverse programs, TCSO aims to increase the rate of self-employment for youth, improve access to culturally-appropriate counseling services and reduce the school drop-out rate among Black students.
“You are making a difference in this city,” outgoing United Way of Toronto president and chief executive officer Frances Lankin told the agency. “You are building a city of inclusion and a city of opportunity for many who would be left behind.
“My heart is touched when I think about the number of young people who have not only been given an opportunity, but who have been mentored, guided, supported and given educational and future career options that is going to make such a difference in the look of leadership in this city. You have done an amazing job.”
Lankin was presented with the President’s award while Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) co-founder and diversity consultant Hamlin Grange was the recipient of the Community Builder award.
“For 30 years, you have played an important role in helping thousands of individuals, whether they were young people trying to find their place in this sometimes confusing and uncompromising world, newcomers attempting to adjust to a new country and starting a new life or so many others who may feel left out and left behind,” Grange said. “You have been at the forefront speaking and working on behalf of those who have no voice and sometimes no jobs.”
Derrick McLennon, who has been with the organization from the inception, was presented with the first Founders award.
“He’s unique in that he has continued his association with us and he’s an integral part of the success of Tropicana,” said executive director Sharon Shelton who made the presentation.
Keynote speaker Dr. Carl Mack, the executive director of the National Black Society of Engineers (NSBE) which held its first international conference in Toronto last March, said he was honoured to be part of TCSO’s 30th anniversary.
“Through your agitation, you have been able to serve nearly 200,000 people and for that we ought to be saluting you,” said Mack who last month was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Clarkson University. “You don’t have to be a Ph.D. in Child Psychology to understand the importance of an organization like Tropicana when it comes to our young people and how important intervention is.”
He chided some members of the audience for not paying full attention to the sterling testimonials delivered by young Tropicana benefactors, Daniels-Lee, Morgan and Florette Bacchus-Haynes.
“They will tell you that what I whispered in their ears as they walked off the stage was a sincere apology because when they were telling you their story, you were not fully listening to them,” said Mack, a former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) Seattle chapter. “You did not give those young people your undivided attention as they told you how Tropicana helped pull them up…This organization helped make these young people better today than when they found them.
“In the United States, I am graduating 50 per cent of Black children. Believe me, if my children were standing here and you, as an audience, reacted the way you did to Richard, Florette and Dwayne, I would give you a similar chastisement.”
Passionate about the advancement of Black youth, Mack expressed concern that a large number of them are dropping out of high school in Canada and the United States and suggested that all avenues should be explored, including an Africentric Alternative School, to ensure that they succeed in the classroom.
“There’s something inherently beautiful to know about one’s history,” he said. “For all those years that I went to school in Jackson, Mississippi, I did not know anything about what it was to be a Black man…If you want something you never had before, you better be willing to do something you never did before.”
While enrolled at the University of Toronto in the late 1970s, Brown – he died six years ago — and a few other students were assigned a project that involved the preparation of a needs assessment survey of a community in southern Ontario. The group chose the then Borough of Scarborough and in conducting the survey discovered that young people in the area faced considerable challenges.
Determined to do something, the team quickly moved to prepare an audited report of its findings and solicit broad support for the youth in the disadvantaged community.
Tropicana was the first Black member agency of the United Way in 1984 when it received $35,000 in funding. The agency now receives nearly $400,000 from the non-profit charity.
The three levels of government and private donors also contribute the majority of funding which is nearly $10 million annually.
The agency is currently fund-raising to establish a Centre of Excellence. It has raised $500,000 and is seeking another $350,000 to make a down payment for its own facility.
“The work that Tropicana does is not simply a case of building strong individuals and healthy communities,” said president Dr. Gervan Fearon. “It’s also contributing to a city that represents a global component of our society at large.”
Tropicana serves close to 15,000 clients annually.