Ask Jerome Morgan who his role model is and he will unflinchingly point to his mother Suzette Henry and grandmother Rosalyn Foster.
The Ryerson University psychology graduate often sing their praises as he talks about the importance they have had in his life growing up in some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods.
Morgan came to Canada from Jamaica at age four in 1991.
“It was not easy coming to a new country,” said the eldest of six children. “We faced many challenges, but my mother and grandma made sure that though we didn’t have much, we made the best of whatever little there was for us.
“These are two very strong and tough Jamaican women who, though they did not attend university or college, knew the value of securing a good education. It’s because of them that I am the first in my family to get a university degree.”
Jerome said he chose Ryerson over York University and the University of Toronto because it was the right fit for him.
“I had too many friends going to York and I was afraid there might be distractions,” he said. “I just did not feel comfortable at the U of T. Ryerson was ideal for me and I enjoyed every minute there.”
Morgan certainly made the most of his time at the downtown university.
He was president of the United Black Students organization at Ryerson and a youth ambassador for three years in the university’s unique Tri-Mentoring First Generation program established to help first generation and new immigrant students with their transition to post-secondary education. He also tutored students.
Last month, Morgan was one of 66 recipients of Dennis Mock Student Leadership awards that recognize graduates who have made outstanding voluntary extracurricular contributions while on campus.
He was elated to be a recipient, but overwhelmed when he was invited to address fellow students, faculty, staff and family members at the annual celebration.
“I received a phone call about two weeks before the ceremony saying I had been recommended by professors and staff to be the voice of the students on that day,” said Morgan. “It was indeed quite an honour to speak on behalf of the students.”
He said he learned a very valuable lesson in his first year at Ryerson.
“I realized very quickly that university wasn’t about books,” he said. “It’s about the minds that write the books and the minds that read the books…We all know our academic success is important for our personal success, but our community success is vital for our continued success. It’s the experiences, the people and the memories which will define our life and our life’s work.”
Morgan also had some words of inspiration for the winners.
“If I can leave you with anything, it’s to aim high and push your own limits and those of others,” he said. “Don’t wait for things to happen but instead make them happen. Be a leader every day of your life. The measure of who you are is not what you say, but what you do. Live life the way you want to be remembered because you will not have any regrets.”
Morgan, who spent two years each at Martingrove and Emery Collegiate Institutes, was also quite active outside Ryerson.
He co-ordinated free art programs for the Art Starts Neighbourhood Cultural Centre in the Lawrence Heights community and worked as a youth leader with School Without Borders which supports a global network of grassroots educators and learning communities.
Three years ago, Morgan visited Brazil and worked with neighbourhood leaders to learn about community development, poverty and culture. Using this experience in his practicum course, he returned to the South American country a year later to connect his experiential learning project to his research on liberation psychology.
He also helped rebuild homes in New Orleans destroyed by Hurricane Katarina and worked in New York for the Leave Out Violence program with its violence prevention initiatives.
Next fall, Morgan enters York University to pursue a Masters in Environmental Studies.
“My plan was perhaps to work for a few years after getting my first degree before going on to do graduate studies,” said Morgan who aspires to be a university professor. “But in my second year at Ryerson, a White professor told me that I am a Masters candidate. A few weeks later, a Black professor said the same thing to me. I guess they saw something in me that I didn’t think I was capable of.”
Other Dennis Mock Leadership award winners were Joycelyn Amos, Gloria Antwi, Dawit Hailu, Atefeh Ayati, Blake Walker, Onah Osemeke, Emerson Ganpatsingh, Shakera Martin and nursing student Shantae Johns who migrated from Jamaica seven years ago and aspires to be a medical lawyer.