Mediocrity and underachievement were not options for poet laureate Gregory Frankson, a.k.a. Ritallin.
Constantly reminding her son that education is the key to success and prosperity, his mother led by example.
Residing in Toronto Community Housing in Scarborough’s Orton Park, she worked in a factory producing plastic plates and cups after emigrating from Jamaica via England before heading back to the classroom where she secured a laboratory technician diploma.
“My mom went back to school again and is now working to help make kids better at The Hospital for Sick Children,” said Frankson at the annual Alliance of Educators for Black Students (AEBS) student awards ceremony at Richmond Green Secondary School earlier this month. “She’s a happy homeowner in her 60s having a grand old time.”
The theme of this year’s celebration was “Celebrating Success”.
“For me, success is not only about getting a 90 per cent average in school, having a fat bank account or driving a fancy car,” said Frankson, who is the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership poet laureate. “It’s about doing what your heart tells you, it’s about doing something at a very high level of achievement and it’s about doing something that helps contribute to the overall advancement of the community. That’s what success should look like.”
The first Black president of Queen’s University alma mater society, Frankson challenged the honourees to ensure that their footprints leave a legacy.
“Through tonight’s recognition, you are being honoured for some of the positive things you have been able to achieve on a large scale,” added the League of Canadian Poets member and former Spoken Word Canada national director. “But think about what you want to do with your individual lives in order to spur that kind of change and that kind of success and inspiration on a day-to-day and person-to-person level. I want you to look at ways in which you can help everyone around you and not just at an organizational or school level.”
Frankson advised a Queen’s student-led initiative to name a campus building after Robert Sutherland, Canada’s first known university graduate and Black lawyer.
Five years ago, the university’s board of trustees unanimously approved a motion to name the Policy Studies building after Sutherland, who won 14 academic prizes at the institution which he graduated from in 1852 with honours in Classics and Math.
Jamaican-born Sutherland, who died in 1878 at age 48, left his entire estate of $12,000 – which was then equal to Queen’s annual operating budget – to the university to help place it on a solid financial footing in the wake of a banking crisis that threatened its existence at the time.
A total of 29 elementary and 38 secondary school students were recognized at the celebration that honours excellence in the classroom and community.
“What is happening here tonight is a reminder that I should continue to push on even harder,” said 18-year-old Parse Cottrell, who graduates from Bayview Secondary School this month. “It’s good to know that my hard work and perseverance are appreciated and I am honoured to be in the presence of other young people like myself who are excelling.”
Vice-principal Arlene Higgins-Wright nominated Cottrell for the recognition.
“Parse is quite active in our school where he’s very well respected by the teachers and his peers,” she said. “He’s also an incredible chess player and role model.”
Beginning in September, Cottrell will pursue political science studies at the University of Toronto.
“The goal is to become a lawyer and politician,” said the Grade 12 student, who is the vice-president of community outreach with the federal Liberal party.
Maple High School graduate, Kevin Kanhai, is also preparing for university. He was accepted into the University of Guelph-Humber psychology program.
Last month, he was cast in “To the Moon & Back” which his high school presented at the Southern Ontario Youth Theatre festival in Kitchener. The abstract student-written and directed piece was aimed at opening dialogue and breaking the stigma of mental health issues.
“That was a great opportunity for me to get outside my comfort zone and engage in something different that was stimulating,” said Kanhai. “To be recognized by my community as I am about to finish high school is icing on the cake.”
Aldergrove Public School Grade seven student, Jahlen Smith, was inspired by the recognition.
“This shows me there are people who care about young people and I will do by best not to let them down,” he said.
Grade Four student Anika Mawa of Windham Ridge Public School, whose interests include writing, medicine and dentistry; and 14-year-old Alexander Mackenzie High School Grade Seven student, Audrey Addo, who is a math tutor and member of her school’s French club, were proud to share the spotlight with their peers.
“Audrey is very dedicated, hardworking and motivated,” said French teacher, Shirin Juma, who nominated her for the award. “She has also taken a keen interest in Francophone culture and loves to speak the language.”
Several scholarship awards were presented at the celebration.
Unionville High School student, Amanda Krett, secured the Delia Harriott Award; while Kiana Blake of Vaughan Secondary School and Aurora High School student, Tredel Lambert, were presented with the Black Foundation of Community Networks Awards.
Tiffany Sooman of Woodbridge College and Thornlea Secondary School student, Courtney Tidd, were the recipients of the Vilma Cornelius Founder’s Award. The retired York District School Board (YDSB) vice-principal was instrumental in starting the AEBS awards ceremony.
The other secondary school student award winners are Ann-Bernice Thomas, Bidemi Keshinro, Taylor Pryce, Tyrell Lewin, Dainelle Barham, Jalen Patrick, Nathan Thomas, Chloe Gordon, Nadia Hansen, Chelsea Nane, Emma Poku, Hodo Hussein, Dominic Reid, Juvaunie Bryan, Andre Barrow, Jessica Mootoo, Tobi Solebo, Ebony Cardiff, Oluwadasola Olufosoya, Kenya Hazelwood, Khadecia Bennett, Kelisha May, Claudia Morgan, Adrianna Cambridge, Alexsis Josephson, Amanda Ingram, Lauren Powell-Brown, David Amoako and Trey Robinson – two students with the same name – of Dr. John M. Denison Secondary School and Middlefield Collegiate Institute, respectively.
The elementary school honourees are Isimeme Okonofua, Carlos Edwards, Eunice Afolabi-Aiyelokum, Quentin Richards, Jordaine Daley, Keiandrea Blake, Sierra Richards, Drew McFayden, Sole McLean, Reannah Ennis, Roger Grubb, Veondra Messam-Harding, Tanique Jackson, Alexis Murrell, Joshua Fearon, Kishana Smith, Raheem Clarke-Lewis, Mackenzie Stephenson, Bryan Thornhill, Christina Slack, Frankline George, Nathaniel Minott, Quentin Hassell, Mazin Shaaeldin, Ryyan Elgalal, Olamide Animashaun and Panashe Chodokufa.
An award recipient a year ago, Alexander Mackenzie High School Grade 11 student, Marissa Coulton, shared the experience of being recognized by the AEBS.
“Receiving this award last year proved that hard work and determination do pay off,” said the teenager, who volunteers in the community, is the violinist in her school’s string orchestra, works part-time, plays the piano and is working to start a newspaper at her school. “Becoming an AEBS award alumnus has really inspired me to shoot for the stars in and out of school.”
The AEBS – led by Dr. Kim Tavares and Camille Logan – presented a plaque to outgoing YDSB director of education Ken Thurston for promoting equity and inclusion. He retires on July 31 after 38 years in public education.