The memory of having a gun pointed at him as he ran for his life is still fresh in Ricky Neckles mind.
He was on his way to his Mount St. Dennis home after basketball when three young men approached him and demanded his personal possessions which included his backpack with his school work, wallet and digital camera. After a brief struggle, he managed to escape with his belongings. While running away, he looked back briefly to judge the distance between himself and his pursuers only to realize that one of them was pointing a gun at him.
“I never ran so fast,” said Neckles. “I made it home safely that evening, but I couldn’t sleep for three nights.”
That was almost seven years ago when he was in Grade 11.
Last summer, Neckles decided he wanted to travel to Europe. Two weeks later, he was in Madrid watching soccer’s World Cup semi-finals on TV and a few days later he was off to Barcelona. He spent the next few weeks in Paris, Monaco, Dubai and Abu Dhabi before returning home.
“I tell you this to give you an idea of where I came from and where I am at in my young life,” Neckles told about 100 young participants at the recently-held fifth annual Black Business & Professional Association’s (BBPA) Leaders of Tomorrow student conference.
The brainchild of Emery Collegiate Institute’s principal Icilda Elliston and her daughter Kareena who is a TD Canada Trust management associate, the conference exposes Grade 11 and 12 students from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods to business and career opportunities.
Born in Grenada in 1985, Neckles came to Canada at age three with his mother.
“It’s often said that you come here for a better life, but I did not experience that for many years,” he told his young audience. “I lined up at food banks and by the time I was nine years old, I had lived in 11 different apartments. It was around that time that I made the decision that I was going to be my mom’s retirement plan and failure was not an option. Having a mentor also helped because I had some guidance.”
After graduating with a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Toronto three years ago, Neckles worked with Accenture – a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company – as a management consultant analyst for a year before founding Neckles Global Enterprise that owns a collection of diversified businesses in trade, manufacturing and real estate.
“I now own more real estate than I lived in between the ages of 6 and 9,” the York Memorial Collegiate Institute graduate said. “I love it when people say that Black youth are at-risk because we are. We are at-risk of being extraordinary. When I look at you here today, I am so inspired because I see individuals who face obstacles that few people can understand.”
The only conference of its kind in Canada, the Leaders of Tomorrow forum seeks to encourage and inspire students from the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods to strive for academic excellence and economic independence.
The students took part in workshops that focused on interview skills, business etiquette, professional conduct and best practices, money management, cutting edge advancements in technology and strategic life mapping.
“This conference is necessary because we consistently find that visible minorities, especially Black Canadians, are under-represented in business and technology,” said BBPA national scholarship fund chair and Temple Scott Associates vice-president Paula Morrison. “This event provides an opportunity to these students so that they can leave here and go out and make a positive impact both locally and globally and truly become tomorrow’s leaders.”
Hosted for the first time by the Toronto Police Service, the organization’s Black Internal Support Network, led by co-chairs Danielle Dowdy and Staff Sgt. Larry Smith, facilitated workshops and helped out in other areas with the day’s event.
In his welcoming remarks, deputy chief Mike Federico encouraged the students to carefully think about the choices they make as they transition from childhood to adulthood, seeking to become community-oriented and valuable members of society.
“This is a day you will benefit from and you will leave here with some very valuable information that will help you make life decisions,” he said. “Take advantage of the opportunities to be active participants in the discussions. You are embarking on adulthood and responsible citizenship. High school is an opportunity to make that transition and enjoy all that life has to offer.
“As you work through today, our expectation is that you will start to pay attention to how you can make a greater contribution to your community,” Federico added. “The benefits you will derive will be so rewarding, not just materially, but for personal advancement and growth.”