By RON FANFAIR
Trapped in the criminal justice web without an education and employable skills for much of his youth, Chuck “Spider” Jones turned his life around at an advanced age to fulfill his dream of becoming a broadcaster.
Encouraged by his wife who told him he would work for “chump change” for the rest of his life if he did not secure a decent job, the Grade five dropout and three-time former Golden Glove boxing champion returned to the classroom at age 31 to become an honour student, radio talk show host, author, motivational speaker and Premier of Ontario Award winner for outstanding achievement in the Arts.
Jones used his inspiring story to uplift young people at the second annual Africentric Alternative School awards dinner last Friday night at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) centre.
“Over the last 28 years, I have been living my dream,” Jones, who graduated with honours from Seneca College’s Radio & Journalism program in 1982 making the Dean’s List, said in his keynote address. “I am doing what I love to do. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s where you are going that matters the most.”
Jones said he aspired to be a broadcaster at age 10 when his cousin took him to the Fox Theatre in Detroit in1956 to see a concert.
“I sat in the fourth row with him and his crew and I did not understand at the time that my cousin was part of a gang that ran the south side of Detroit,” Jones said. “What I did understand though was when I saw the MC introduced and the way he ran on stage and blew kisses to the crowd. Then be began introducing The Temptations, James Brown and some of the top names in the entertainment business at the time. I knew right then I was going to be a radio broadcaster.
“On the way back home, I started to share my dream with my cousin and his boys and they laughed at me. When you have a dream, you have to stick to it like crazy glue. If people don’t believe in you, they shouldn’t be hanging with you because you need confidence to bring dreams into reality.
“You don’t want to work for chump change. You want to work at a job that will give you gratification and make you feel good. To do that, you need to have that education or that skilled trade. I learned that because a woman got into my corner.”
The TDSB approved a recommendation in May 2008 to set up the Africentric School that’s open to all students. The school opened in September 2009 with an enrolment of 85 students. It currently has 160 students and will expand next semester to 182 with the addition of Grade Seven.
Former TDSB executive officer of Student and Community Affairs, Lloyd McKell, who was at the forefront of the struggle to establish Canada’s first Africentric public school, congratulated the students, principal, staff and parents for successfully completing two years of outstanding accomplishment as a school of learning and excellence.
“This school continues to demonstrate that excellent instruction delivered by caring teachers and support staff based on high expectations for all combined with inspired and expert school leadership and the support of parents are essential ingredients for a successful school,” said McKell. “Through your tireless and innovative efforts, you continue to build a learning environment that centres the values, experiences, achievements and challenges of people of African descent in ways which strengthen pride and confidence among the students and which motivate to learn.
“Your approach in working together for the students reflects the desired pathway towards the ideals of Africentric education envisioned by members of Toronto’s African community who have been advocating for such a concept in our city for over 20 years.”
Dr. Afua Cooper, the new James Robinson Chair in Black Studies at Dalhousie University, acknowledged the school’s staff for remaining strong in the face of challenges and praised the graduating class.
“I commend you as you move into your junior high school year,” she told the graduates. “You have been given a strong foundation at the Africentric School that prepares you to face challenges and to embrace the wonderful opportunities you will be given in your new environment.
“You have developed a strong sense of your African identity and personhood and this you will carry into your junior high school experience. I know that with the training and support you received, you will shine and excel. You are pioneers and in the sense of that word, you will be carving new paths for others to follow. Know that we love you and support you. So go do some great things.”
This year’s honour roll and scholastic award winners were Monisha Clarke and Shyheim Laryea (Grade One); Chante Blake, Michael Brown, Jemila Donalds, Jaden Griffith-Smith, Kemora Manning and Devante Nischal (Grade Two); Oniah Chandler, Samantha Hughes and Lamar Noad (Grade Three); Shakeima Belle, Siobhan Hyatt, Amani Mark, Rashaun Nischal, Njau James, Chase Spencer and Erykah Walters (Grade Four) and Jemila Montague (Grade Five).
Thandiwe Chimurenga is convinced she made the right choice in sending her sons Khalfani and Shomari to the school.
“Their confidence along with their sense of African identity and history has grown,” said the active parent advocate. “They have been involved in a wide variety of activities that has helped them to be balanced in terms of their personality and their outlook on life.”
Last year, 81 per cent of Africentric School students achieved at or above the provincial standard in Education Quality and Accountability Office Maths Assessment compared to 71 per cent for the TDSB and for students across the province. The Africentric School also scored higher than the TDSB and the province’s average in Writing and Reading.