Recognized for helping young people explore literature



Christmas, for most people, is a time to celebrate – among other things – the love of family. Markham resident, Donna Cardoza, has much for which to rejoice, with her two children, Joshua and Tia, every day of the year.

In 1997, Cardoza’s Jamaican-born husband, David, succumbed to cancer, leaving his devastated wife to care for a then 10-year-old boy and four-year-old girl. Joshua graduated from York University with honours and is a Grade Five teacher at Carrville Mills Public School in Thornhill while his sister is enrolled in York’s Communications program.

“When my husband died, I made the decision that, since half their world was taken away from them, I was going to make the other half the best world that they can enjoy,” said Cardoza, who was presented with the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship last week at Queen’s Park.

“Now, just look at them? They are simply amazing. We don’t wait for Christmas and Thanksgiving to celebrate. Every day is a celebration for us.”

Four years ago, Cardoza established The Nubian Book Club that uses literacy as a tool for enhancing leadership and social skills, community engagement, respectful peer relationships and overall student success.

Starting with about 60 students at Milliken Mills High School, the club’s membership has grown to nearly 130.

“Young people who explore literature cultivate valuable literacy skills and are better positioned for academic success,” said Cardoza, who migrated to Canada from Trinidad & Tobago 35 years ago. “Youth who dutifully participate in respectful dialogue are practicing social and negotiation skills that often reduce conflict and possibly violence.”

Students from kindergarten to university level meet four times during the summer in the serenity of Cardoza’s backyard to collectively explore selected literature. Educators, including York University professor, Dr. Carl James, Milliken Mills High School teacher and former Olympian, Anton Skerritt, and York Region District School Board’s superintendent of education, Cecil Roach, are among those who have facilitated sessions.

“The things that I enjoyed most were the keen discussions generated from the books, the camaraderie that the students and adults shared, and the ultimate joy to see a group of youth simply reading for the pleasure of reading,” said Itah Sadu who, with her husband Miguel San Vicente, co-owns A Different Booklist. “The Nubian Book Club is a great model for others to emulate as it brings out the best in books. A reading nation is a winning nation.”

Grenadian-born Ricky Neckles, the founder of Neckles Global Enterprise, which owns a collection of diversified businesses in trade, manufacturing and real estate, has participated in the program.

“My experience at The Nubian Book Club was phenomenal,” said Neckles, who graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Toronto. “The club bridges the generation gap through reading and encourages open dialogue in an environment where youth feel safe to share their perspectives and stories with adults. Great people, great dialogue and great food are always a formula for an enriching experience.”

Cardoza attributed the program’s success to the incredible support she has received from community leaders.

“I have had the support of remarkable people,” she said. “I have always surrounded myself with people I can learn from. I was never scared to say I don’t understand, I don’t know how to say it and I don’t know how to deal with it. I have been embraced by people who have really stood by me and taught me. Without them, I would not be standing here. I was always mentored and encouraged by the best.”

Jackie Spence, the director of York University’s Urban Diversity Consecutive Teacher program, nominated Cardoza for the award.

“She runs such a wonderful program that has opened young people’s minds to books and the love of reading,” said Spence. “She’s just so selfless.”

The recipient of the YMCA Peace Medallion two years ago, Cardoza is a member of York Region’s Equity Council and the Alliance of Educators for Black Students.

“Her service to her community is known far and wide,” said Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Charles Sousa, who joined the province’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley, in presenting the awards. “She exemplifies the famous saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. She’s an advocate for social justice and equity and very much involved in her community.”

A beaming Josh Cardoza said he’s extremely proud of his mom.

“This is such a joyous and fulfilling moment for both me and my sister,” he said at the awards ceremony. “We know how hard she works and the amount of time and effort she puts into everything she does. She treats other kids like she treats us and she has made a huge difference in the lives of so many young people.”

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