Had it not being for a Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA) scholarship, Audley Salmon would not have been able to attend university 22 years ago.
With two other children to support with the earnings from her factory job, Salmon’s mother (now deceased) did not have the financial capacity to send her middle child to a post-secondary institution.
“That scholarship opened doors for me and changed my life,” said Salmon who was the keynote speaker at the BBPA’s national scholarship awards recently. “It was even more rewarding because it was renewable. Back then, you had to maintain about an 80 per cent average to get many of the scholarships over a four-year period. The fact that the BBPA was willing to commit and invest in me was huge.”
The investment has paid handsome dividends for the Jamaican immigrant who spent his childhood in social housing.
Salmon graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Education from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters in Education from the University of Toronto.
In the summer of 2008, he was reassigned by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) from Western Technical High School where he was the principal for 42 months to C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute which was in the eye of the storm a year earlier following the fatal shooting of teenager Jordan Manners and subsequent allegations of sexual abuse. (All charges against six students accused of sexually assaulting a young Muslim girl in the school’s bathroom in the fall of 2006 were later dropped.)
In the last two years, with Salmon at the helm, academic expectations have risen and the school’s image has undergone a drastic transformation. Suspensions have dropped and standardized test scores have escalated while an overnight leadership camp, an after-school mentoring program and lunchtime math tutoring were introduced.
Students produced a musical, Little Shop of Horrors, and in September 2009, the school hosted a special Toronto Argonauts practice where a partnership with the TDSB and The Toronto Foundation for Student Success was unveiled for the revival of football programs at C.W. Jefferys, Lester B. Pearson, Eastern Commerce and North Albion Collegiate.
The C.W. Jefferys program was scrapped in 1989 after 24 years.
Salmon said he was not fazed when he learned of his assignment to C.W. Jefferys.
“When I was first appointed, there was a notion that it would be a challenge, but the reality is that challenges represent huge opportunities,” said the Martingrove Collegiate Institute graduate who was once nominated for an Award of Excellence in Teaching. “The key when it comes to educating kids is building relationships with them. If we do that, it doesn’t matter where they are from or who they are. Once you build a relationship with students, they will be successful. C.W. Jefferys is just another school and it’s the same concept that applies.”
Proud to be the first in his family to graduate from university, Salmon relishes encouraging young people to aim for excellence.
“I worked in business for a while and I realized that really what I wanted to do was spend time influencing kids,” he said. “I remember on my teacher’s college application, I put down at that point in time that as an immigrant to Canada, I wanted to be a role model for other immigrants. That was my real impetus and I realized that my calling was with kids and making a difference with them on a regular basis.
“With young people, you see the difference you make every day. After they graduate, some of them come back and say, ‘I am not sure you realize this sir, but you made a difference’. My goodness, what better reward is there?”
Salmon is a former chair of the Willowridge Information & Recreation Centre which provides programs to families in a low income neighbourhood in the west end.