Watching Black youth die senselessly in what is widely known as the “summer of the gun” in Toronto back in 2005 left Nigel Bariffee confused and depressed.
At the same time, he was hearing from his sister Portia – a principal at Firgrove Public School – about the substantial drop-out rate of Blacks in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) system.
“These things were happening yet it was not until Jane Creba was fatally shot on Yonge Street on Boxing Day (December 2005) that many politicians seemed to realize that there was a problem in the city with youths and gun violence,” said Bariffee. “That was it for me and it was time for me to step into the ring and try to make a difference.”
After spending almost 20 years in the banking, information technology and sales & marketing industries, Bariffee switched careers. The York University Math graduate returned to school to pursue primary education studies and became an even stronger community activist.
Bariffee ran for the Green Party of Canada in Etobicoke North in the last federal elections two years ago and has been publicly speaking out about the challenges that young people face in the ethnically diverse Rexdale neighbourhood where he has resided since he and his family came to Canada in the mid-1980s.
Rexdale is one of the 13 priority designated neighbourhoods.
“Youths in Rexdale are graduating from university, but they can’t get jobs,” he said. “There is more to the neighbourhood than guns and drugs and we have to find ways to engage our young people in a positive way. My focus is on quality public education, affordable housing, youth advocacy, eliminating poverty and providing good green jobs and a just society for all inside and outside the classroom. That’s what I am about.”
Bariffee was recognized last week at the Urban Alliance on Race Relations’ (UARR) 35th annual awards dinner for his community work.
He acknowledged his family for helping him make a seamless transition and says he fully enjoys his new profession as a Grade Three teacher for the past four years at Greenholme Junior Middle School.
“That is a key grade because we know that if students are not reading by then, they will fall behind,” said the West Humber Collegiate graduate. “I have to make sure that every child that passes through my hands is able to read at that grade level. That way, I know no one will fall though the cracks.”
TDSB administrator Lloyd McKell said he’s impressed with Bariffee’s performance in the classroom.
“I have seen him at work with students and I was electrified by the way in which he was able to connect with young people,” said McKell, the board’s first executive officer of student and community equity. “It was simply a joy to walk into his classroom and see how he operates. Nigel is more than a teacher. He’s a mentor, counsellor and in many instances a father figure. He’s a special kind of person and I am very happy that he’s being honoured by the UARR.”
McKell said that Bariffee worked assiduously to promote the establishment of the Africentric Alternative School.
“He was on a committee that made an excellent presentation outlining the school’s objectives and that presentation was well received by the community,” McKell said.
Jamaican-born Bariffee is the co-chair of the African Heritage Educators Network and member of the Good Jobs for All and Community Organization for Responsible Development organizations.
The UARR also recognized Ryerson University assistant professor and advocate for free health care for pregnant women, Manavi Handa, community advocate and artist Farrah Khan and photographer Che Kothari.
The late Dr. Wilson Head, who came to Toronto in 1965 via Windsor where he spent six years and the United States where he was born, co-founded the UARR in 1975 and became its first president.
Head, who was also the founding chair of York University’s Social Department, died in October 1993 at age 79.