Focused investments are sometimes necessary to ensure equity, provide access to openings and generally present opportunities for success where they are not readily available, says former Ontario provincial Minister Mary Anne Chambers.
That’s the reason she annually supports scholarships and bursaries in the Black community, beginning in 1997 with the Dr. John Brooks academic award.
“Similar to my arguments in support of the introduction of the Africentric School model in Toronto last year, I do not see focussed investments as divisive or akin to segregation or discrimination,” she said in her keynote remarks at the 29th annual John Brooks Community Foundation awards banquet. “They provide opportunities for those whose proverbial village does not include the kinds of reach or access or privilege that others might be fortunate to have.”
Chambers has been a regular contributor of academic awards administered by the Jamaican Canadian Association and the Church of the Nativity. She also made a financial contribution when she left politics, described as a parting gift to the community, to help sustain a tutoring and mentoring program run by the University of Toronto Scarborough campus’ Black Students Association.
But it’s the Dr. John Brooks Foundation that first grabbed her attention 13 years ago.
“John was a trailblazer and pioneer in the world of scholarship foundations,” said Chambers, the president of the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) which supports basic childhood education in Jamaica.
“When I wanted to start awarding an annual scholarship to a student of Jamaican, Caribbean or African heritage, I had no difficulty deciding how to make that happen. I knew of the foundation’s work and was not aware of any other organization that was doing the same kind of work. Now, when I participate in or hear of efforts of so many other organizations that are awarding scholarships to students of African or Caribbean heritage, I think of John’s leadership in getting the ball rolling.
“I think of him as the man who helped us to get to the point where now, there are several community organizations giving out these kinds of scholarships every year. I also think of John as a vivid illustration of the significant impact that one individual, a simple yet extraordinary man, can make in this complex world…He was a visionary and a very wise man whose legacy continues to have a tremendous impact on the lives of not only the individuals who have received awards through his foundation, but also their families and communities and indeed society as a whole.”
Brooks has been awarded the Order of Canada, Jamaica’s Order of Distinction and an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University. He passed away two years ago and a laneway in the Regal Heights Community where he spent all of his 45 years since coming from Jamaica was renamed for him last May.
Chambers congratulated this year’s recipients and reminded the audience that for each student being celebrated, there are many others who have not made it to this point because they lack support.
“I would like you to think of the power of investing early as an investment that can pay huge dividends for our children and youth, their families and society,” she said.
Ryerson University second-year business management student Monica Samuel was the recipient of the Mary Anne Chambers scholarship for a second straight year. She is the first female member of her mother’s family to attend a post-secondary institution.
“The contribution you have made to my post-secondary education has eased some of the financial burdens I currently face,” Samuel, who was the recipient of a Black Business & Professional Association scholarship last year, told Chambers. “Your generosity has inspired me to help others and give back to the community. I hope one day I will be able to help students achieve their goals by instituting a scholarship foundation of my own. You have given me and other students the greatest gift – the gift of hope.”
A total of 25 students, including top graduate prize winner Danielle Johnston, who is pursuing medicine at the University of Waterloo, were presented with scholarships.
Other winners were Deriann Cornwall, Lucas Russell, Jazmin Batey, Malik Ireland, Mariba Douglas, Darnell Clarke, Jordan Russell, Maryam Ali, Grace Cacciatore, Ramit Soodan, Delano Grant, Malik Morgan, Daniel Skeete, Nicole Carbonare, Joanne Williams, Howard Shaw, Tristan David, Sandrine Emmanuel, Eltisha Wright, Josephine D’Souza, Shantel Myers, Jordan Bigford and Amit Sidker.
The John Brooks Foundation has presented nearly $175,000 in scholarships to 850 Grades Seven to 12 students since 1981.
In 1992, Queen’s University became the first institution of higher learning to establish a relationship with the foundation in the form of an annual scholarship awarded to eligible students entering an undergraduate program. Over the years, other colleges and universities, private businesses and individuals have joined with the John Brooks Foundation to promote and support academic and community excellence.
Many scholarship recipients are enjoying successful professional careers. Faithe Holder is one of 18 Black partners practicing in influential downtown law firms; Terrie-Lynne Devonish, the chief counsel at Aon Canada Inc., was last year recognized as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under-40 lawyers and Steve Conville is a vice-president and portfolio manager at Macquarie Private Wealth Inc.
In addition, Dr. Gary Miller was the first Black to enter the University of Toronto’s ophthalmology residency program and doctoral student George Charames was the scientific adviser for the movie Splice, where he taught actors Sara Polley and Adrien Brody how to act the part of genetic scientists.