The Chantel Dunn Memorial bursary has received a substantial boost with York University agreeing to match financial contributions made at a fundraising concert last Saturday night at Trinity Temple Church of God.
The second-year York University Business & Society program student and aspiring lawyer was fatally gunned down five years ago while picking up her boyfriend at Northwood Community Centre following a basketball game.
The suspects are still at large.
“Like Chantel, many of our students – 46 per cent of them according to our most recent statistics – work part or full-time while they are studying,” said the university’s foundation development officer, Corrine Rahman, who made the announcement.
“To create an award that will exist year after year and will be matched with government funding requires a gift of $12,500 from the community. The province doubles this gift to $25,000 to make student financial aid more significant. A $25,000 award will pay out between $1,000 to $1,250 each year for a student at York which represents a significant amount towards their tuition. This award created in Chantel’s memory will provide opportunity and access for generations to come.”
As Dunn and her boyfriend were leaving the community centre’s parking lot on the night of February 7, 2006, two suspects fired shots into the car she was driving, hitting Dunn twice in the abdomen. Her boyfriend, who police claim was likely the target, escaped with a shoulder injury.
The Scarborough-born teen graduated from Loyola Secondary School and worked part-time at Urban Behaviour Clothing in Erin Mills Town Centre for almost three years while going to school.
To mark the first anniversary of her death in 2007, a commemorative bench and plaque was unveiled in Dunn’s name on York Commons.
York University professor Dr. Andrea Davis was instrumental in establishing the honour.
“I never actually met Chantel and I never taught her, but I feel like I knew her intimately,” Davis said at last Saturday’s community fundraiser. “I see her reflected in many of the faces I see in this room and I see her reflected in the faces of my students every time I stand in front of them, students who come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, but who dare to dream large.
“Many of them come from immigrant families and they are the first in their family to go to university. These families left their small islands and the continent and sub-continent in search of better days, not for themselves, but for their children like Chantel and that’s what resonates with me.”
Davis, deputy director of the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), used the celebration of Dunn’s life to challenge parents and adults to carefully consider the roles they should be playing in the lives of Black youth. She also exhorted them to cultivate an ethic of learning, caring and personal accountability that might be transformed to various intersecting communities in which they live.
“Can we help Black boys challenge the stereotypes of male behaviour and can we help Black girls grow into strong and independent women without sacrificing their health and well-being and damaging their relationships with Black men?” she asked. “While I am challenging the older to take responsibility for the journey of the young, I want to challenge the youth in this room also to take your place in this world, to be better leaders and role models than we have ever been, to dream larger and bolder than we have ever done and to treasure every opportunity.
“And I want to hold me up accountable for setting the example, for clearing the path along which you must walk if you are to succeed.”
Davis urged young Black men to defy the odds and become good sons, loving husbands, caring fathers, and young Black women to walk tall and proud in their Black and Brown skins and make the choices that are good for them.
“Measure your success on those terms,” she said. “Our young Black girls are constructed as loud, vulgar, aggressive and therefore non-feminist. Other girls are always beautiful while Black girls are sexy. Because Black women bodies are publicly sexualized in the media and popular culture, Black girls are objectified earlier and risk often becoming victims of sexual abuse if not physically, almost always verbally.”
An associate professor in the humanities department where she teaches Cultures of the Americas courses, Davis also reminded parents they have a responsibility to talk to their children about their fears, hopes and desires and always encourage them not to settle for mediocrity.
“We fail our children and the children of our community when we measure them against our own desires and our own fears rather than their own abilities,” she said. “We fail young Black boys and girls when we deploy gender and racial stereotypes against them. We need to set the highest expectations for our children, to insist they are placed in academic streams and not just applied or vocational streams. When you go to those parent teacher meetings and the teacher says your son is doing so well he has a “B” average, ask the teacher what my son needs to get an “A.”
“We need to believe and insist they can excel. We need to have our children dream large and become doctors and just not nurses, professors and not just teachers, psychologists and not just social workers and executives and not just athletes.”
Spoken word artist Helen Yohannes and pannist Nayo Sasaki-Picou, who both attend York University and 15-year-old soloist Rayandra Hudson, who sang at Dunn’s funeral, performed at the fundraiser.