As if trying to integrate into a new country as a teenager was not challenging enough, Lavon Brown had to contend with another obstacle that almost sent her plummeting off the precipice.
Constantly bullied in elementary school, the bespectacled student seriously contemplated suicide as an escape from the hate-filled actions of classmates.
“I thought about it, but then I told myself I could not do that because they would be the winners,” said Brown who migrated from Jamaica six years ago. “I pulled myself together and I decided I was going to be strong in the face of adversity. I was the one that was going to be the winner.”
The Emery Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student has been successful so far. She was among several high school graduates of Jamaican heritage presented with certificates at the Alliance of Jamaican Alumni Associations’ (AJAA) 20th annual awards ceremony recently.
Brown, who aspires to be a police officer, also won a bursary which was her second of the month after receiving one from 31 Division Community Police Liaison Committee.
“I am grateful for these bursaries as they are going to help with my tuition to pursue post-secondary education,” said Brown who enters Sheridan College in September to pursue Justice studies.
The bursary recipients included former Jamaica youth soccer player Kaya Beckford (King Kaya) who was presented with the Wolmer’s Alumni Association award. Born in the Greater Toronto Area, the rap and spoken word artist spent a year at the Valencia Soccer Academy in Spain while enrolled in Glenmuir High School. He resided in Jamaica for four years after living in Barbados for three years and Dominica for 12 months.
Kaya, who completed high school at Silverthorn Collegiate Institute, will study Psychology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
Talented young pianist, actor and scholar Rashaan Allwood followed older brother Yanick as a bursary recipient. The Cawthra Park Secondary School graduate, who averaged 95 per cent in Grade 12, will study Law and Music at the University of Toronto. He aspires to be a lawyer and concert pianist.
Last year, Allwood became the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) Canada’s youngest supporter of a basic school in Jamaica when he adopted New Town Early Childhood Institution in St. Elizabeth. In 2003, he played the lead role of Young Simba in the Walt Disney Broadway Musical, The Lion King.
Jason Graham, who was among the first set of AJAA graduates to be honoured with certificates in 1993, presented the past graduates bursary to Allwood. Graham graduated from Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute and secured an arts degree from the University of Ottawa before pursuing culinary management at George Brown College. He’s currently employed with Canada Border Service Agency in their corporate human resources office in Ottawa.
Speaking on behalf of the graduates, Philip Pocock Catholic Secondary School graduate Nicole Maylor – who was enrolled in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board’s Humanitarian Experiential Leadership Program – thanked the AJAA for their support.
“This graduating class is not only motivated, but also ambitious, intelligent and ready to enter our chosen post-secondary institutions with our creative minds and a determination to do well,” said Maylor, whose father David is a crown attorney and former Share reporter.
Maylor enters the University of Ottawa in September to pursue International Development & Globalisation Studies. Her ultimate goal is to work for the United Nations.
In her keynote address, Jamaica’s High Commissioner Sheila Sealy-Monteith reminded the graduates there are individuals and organizations that care about their development.
“Whether you have been rewarded for success in your studies or you are receiving financial support that will assist you towards an outcome, there is no denying that a circle of care has been established,” she said. “Your efforts and commitment to your own advancement have been recognized and bolstered by others in the community. You are being equipped to continue the journey on which you have embarked and it’s our hope that you will see it to its natural conclusion.”
Jamaica’s top diplomat in Canada paid tribute to the AJAA for its longevity and the positive impact it is making in the lives of young people through the bursary program.
“You know well what these scholarships and bursaries mean to the awardees, modest though they may be,” she said. “You yourself have come through the education system – whether here in Canada or in Jamaica – and understand fully well the significance of this measure of support to those who need it and are deserving of it…The need for assistance continues to be great and it is to the credit of your organization that you continue to rise to the challenge of helping educate minds, thereby liberating our societies…I congratulate you for the vision, the dedication and the spirit of care which you continue to demonstrate. I feel a great sense of pride towards the Jamaican community in Canada…The concept of giving back is alive and well in Canada and no more is it more evident that with our alumni association.”
In light of requests her Ottawa office receives from students for financial assistance to study in Canada, Sealy-Monteith helped establish a charity golf tournament last year. The proceeds were used to assist a fourth-year medical student in Jamaica who was at risk of being de-registered and a third-year student in Toronto.
The second annual fundraising tournament will take place later this month.
The AJAA, which comprises 40 members, has presented close to $196,000 in financial awards to almost 112 graduates since the bursary program started 14 years ago.
By RON FANFAIR