With a large percentage of Black students – mostly boys – failing to make the grade in the public education system, Dr. Ronald Blake established Canada’s first Black accredited school 35 years ago as an alternative private institution to provide specialized tutoring to struggling students.
More than 7,000 young people have passed through Higher Marks Educational Institute’s (HMEI) remedial and intervention program, with many now excelling in myriad professional fields. They include businessman Dameion Royes and university professor, Dr. Krim Lacey, both of whom were honoured at the organization’s anniversary celebration last Saturday night.
With an undergraduate degree in sociology and criminology, Lacey earned a Master’s from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and a PhD from Wayne State University. He holds research positions at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and Wayne State University College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences and is an adjunct professor teaching methodology, statistics and sociology courses.
Lacey credits his mother, Patricia Foster, who attended the event, and HMEI for his success.
“Our mom wanted the best, in terms of education, for me and my older sister when we came here from Jamaica,” he said. “Higher Marks provided that with discipline, respect, perseverance and all the conditions that are necessary to do better and be successful. It also helped me with Math and English which I struggled with at school.”
Lacey’s sister is a registered nurse and her two children are HMEI graduates.
A progressive scholar and thinker, Lacey said he was humbled to be an award recipient.
“I didn’t set out to receive awards, so this is really sobering,” he said. “Every now and then, I look at the certificate I received from Mr. Blake in 1984 and it reminds me of my journey so far, that included a pivotal stop at Higher Marks where you get a bargain basement deal to invest in young people’s future.”
Foster is proud of the impact HMEI has had on her family.
“My daughter was pushed back a Grade after coming from Jamaica and I didn’t like that,” she said. “When a friend told me about Higher Marks, I jumped at it. I drove my kids on Saturdays from the west end to Bathurst St. where they were located at the time and waited for them. When I couldn’t drive them, I put them on a bus. Just look at my kids now and where they are. Higher Marks has a lot to do with their achievements.”
Coming to Canada at age seven to reunite with his mother who migrated five years earlier, Royes aspired to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Those hopes were dashed in his senior year at Martingrove Collegiate Institute when he found himself being relegated to the end of the bench. Believing that his skin colour, not his basketball skills, was the real reason for not getting playing time on the court, he became disillusioned and angry.
With an NBA career in the rear view mirror, Royes turned his attention to business.
While studying Business Administration at Humber College, he sold his car to fund a skin cream lotion enterprise which was his first entrepreneurial venture. With no money to advertise, his cousin and business partner, Paulene Harvey, suggested they turn to grassroots promotion by selling T-shirts with “Big it Up” emblazoned on them.
Shortly after making the proposal, Royes was sorting through a container of T-shirts when he stumbled upon a Black cap. Fond of stylish urban caps and hats, the Jamaican immigrant turned his find into a successful business – Big it Up – which has stores in the Eaton Centre and Square One Shopping Centre in Mississauga.
“Higher Marks instilled discipline, taught me the values of repetition and practice and helped me to improve in English,” said Royes, who is the president and chief executive officer of Brimz Group Inc.
So inspired was Josephine Roopnarine by HMEI and Blake that she returned to university and earned a PhD in psychology.
Her sons, Omar and Andre Charoo, graduated from the program.
“Higher Marks not only influenced them academically, but it gave them confidence and assurance that enabled them to fulfil their dreams,” said Roopnarine, who is the pastor at World Alive Fellowship Ministry. “It laid the foundation for them and motivated me to seek higher education.”
Blake, who migrated from Jamaica in 1965, said HMEI is running out of space and is in the process of raising funds to acquire land to build a facility that will also serve as a community centre to promote the academic and creative aspirations of Black youth.
“I predict that by next February we will have to turn students away,” he said. “We are looking for a minimum of 25,000 square feet in Scarborough or any place that the public can easily access by public transportation. In addition, we are seeking seed money from the community to pay an architect and get some of the groundwork done to get this project off the ground.”
The founder of Dialogue of Faith Church and co-founder of the Black Heritage Association which changed its name to the African Canadian Heritage Association in 1992, Blake is confident that the Black community will financially support the project.
“This is one way for us to take leadership in the education of our children,” said Blake, who has a Master’s in Extension Education & Human Resources Development and a doctorate in Religious Studies from Friends International Christian University.
Awards were also presented to HMEI supporters, Howard Swasey and Dennis Williams.
Swasey is a senior solutions analyst and Williams is a dentist.
Member of Parliament Rathika Sitsabaiesan and former Member of Provincial Parliament Alvin Curling attended the event.
In addition to the Saturday Morning tutorial program, HMEI also offers a full-day program with lessons covering the core areas of English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Art, French and Music.
Classes are limited to a maximum of 11 students who dress in navy blue pants or skirts, white Higher Marks shirts, navy blue ties and black shoes.
Additional information is available on their website at www.highermarks.com.