Rising city leaders get set to make a difference




Growing up without a father can lead to some of the social ills that afflict society.

Malvern resident Brandon Hay was raised by his mother, who brought him to Toronto from Jamaica in 1990 when he was 10 years old. When he returned to Jamaica for vacation for the first time six years later, Hay made an attempt to resolve their differences and establish a relationship with his father.

They were close to forging a bond when Brian Hay was shot nine times in March 2004 while playing dominoes outside a bar he owned in Spanish Town. The young suspect was himself murdered two weeks later.

Determined not to make the same mistake his father did of staying out of his son’s life, Hay founded the Black Daddies Club four years ago to address the absence of male figures in a large number of Black households and help fathers become better parents and role models for their children.

“It was difficult going back to Jamaica to bury my dad and even more troubling when the police officer in charge of the case matter-of-factly told me after I had gone to the station to inquire about the investigation that murder is common in Jamaica,” Hay, the father of three sons, said. “That stung me and I knew there and then that I had to do something to try to make a difference. The question was not what I could do for my sons but rather what could I do for the community.”

Hay, 30, is among 25 rising city leaders poised to take action on issues critical to the health and prosperity of the Toronto region. He’s the recipient of a 2011 DiverseCity Fellowship, making him part of the year-long leadership and networking program.

“I see this as a great opportunity to enhance my leadership skills and broaden my business networks,” Hay told Share from Jamaica where he attended his grandmother’s funeral. “When I looked at the quality of the participants in the first two years, I was very impressed. To know that I am now part of this special outfit is a great feeling and an experience I will make the very most of.”

Other 2011 Fellows include For Youth in Toronto executive director and Skills for Change board secretary Lekan Olawoye, 2008 New Pioneer award winner and social activist Helen Tewolde and St. Lucia Toronto Association president Janelle St. Omer, who is a community relations manager with TD Bank Financial Group.

Born in Ontario to St. Lucian parents, St. Omer is thrilled to be selected.

“A couple of colleagues were 2009 and 2010 Fellows and they raved about the program,” said the York University graduate. “This is a real opportunity to get to know the city builders and also grasp an understanding of city issues. It’s an excellent chance at this point in my career to enhance my leadership skills.”

In the next year, the fellows will be paired with mentors, meet with emerging and established leaders, assess their own leadership skills and work in multi-sectoral teams to address city-building challenges.

“DiverseCity Fellows is about tapping into leadership that exists in all areas of the region,” said program co-chair John Tory. “It’s all hands on deck. Solutions and new partnerships to move this region forward require a diversity of people and opinions.”

The one-year action-oriented leadership development program for rising city builders was launched three years ago. The program comprises four integrated streams of activities – interactive learning sessions, network connections, a mentoring relationship and city-building projects.

“It was a great experience,” said Toronto Police Service human resources analyst and 2009 fellow Danielle Dowdy. “In my group, I met many people who share the same passion like me and are driven and motivated. I was also exposed to city leaders.”

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