Watching a young girl eight years ago with a bullet lodged in her head hooked up to two ventilating machines at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Jamaica was too much for recording artist Shaggy (Orville Burrell).
While feeling helpless, the Grammy-award winning performer was compelled to step up to the plate in a big way for the hospital he was introduced to just over a decade ago while visiting a friend’s son.
Up until that time, he had quietly funded the medical oxygen system upgrade and the enhancement of the administrative block, collaborated with Scotiabank to create a park and recreation facility and donated two ventilators and table top sterilizing and electroencephalogram machines.
Now it was time to do more for the young patients.
With the help of his wife, Rebecca Packer and agent, Sharon Burke, the “Shaggy Make a Difference Foundation” emerged five years ago. Through an annual benefit concert, the organization has raised over US$1 million and – among other things – donated dental chairs and covered the cost for an audit of the hospital’s medical equipment.
Relishing doing philanthropic deeds to uplift the lives of others provide Shaggy with a clear understanding of the role the University of the West Indies Toronto gala committee – which honoured him with a Luminary Award at its sixth annual fundraiser last Saturday night in downtown Toronto – is playing in helping Caribbean students achieve post-secondary education.
“I have never been a big fan of awards,” he told Share. “Normally I accept them as a public relations gesture because it assists with my next project. My grandmother always told me I should worry about the rewards and not the awards. What makes this UWI Toronto gala special is that it’s providing scholarships for young people that can’t afford it. When you consider that this organization has given nearly 200 scholarships in six years, that’s remarkable and those numbers are staggering.
“I know many charitable organizations just exist because they are a conversational piece for the wealthy. That’s why I founded the Shaggy Make a Difference Foundation. It makes no sense if you have an organization set up to improve lives and you are not making a difference. It takes too much energy for you to do something like that and not see some change.”
A former United States Marine Corps member who saw active duty in the Gulf War, Shaggy said Toronto is one of his favourite cities. He was the headliner at a concert the night before the awards ceremony.
“I have been coming here since my entertainment career started,” said the Jamaican-born entertainer who was raised in the United States. “There are lots of Jamaicans and West Indians here who bring a lot of energy to my shows and really inspire me to give my best. While I would rather come here during the summer, I have always had a good time in this city.”
A Luminary Award was also presented to Juanita Westmoreland-Traore, Quebec’s first Black judge and the first Black dean of a Canadian law school through her appointment at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law in 1996.
While dedicating the award to her late Guyanese-born parents and thanking her husband Ismail Traore and other family members for their support, she used part of her acceptance speech to highlight the plight of thousands of young children in refugee camps who don’t have access to education.
“This obviously disturbs us as educators who are humanized and have expectations,” said Westmoreland-Traore. “A society is being created which will include many people who will not see themselves with opportunity and therefore will become breeding grounds for the most heinous of doctrines.”
UWI alumnus, Dr. Catherine Chandler-Crichlow and Toronto International Film Festival artistic director, Cameron Bailey, were the recipients of Vice-Chancellor Awards presented to individuals of Caribbean heritage who are prominent in their field or whose work has highlighted the Caribbean.
“That this is coming from the University of the West Indies is a big deal for me,” said British-born Bailey, who spent four years with his grandparents in Barbados up until age eight before moving to Canada. “While I didn’t have the opportunity to attend that university, I have friends who have been through the system and I am aware of its outstanding reputation.”
A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Bailey dedicated the award to his mother – Luciene Bailey – who attended the gala with his older sister, Maxine Bailey and his wife, Carolynne Hew.
“My mom left Barbados when she was 19 and travelled by boat to England to study nursing,” he said. “She worked so hard and was so focused on improving our lives. That will always be an inspiration to me. I was the first in my family to go to university and the way my mom raised me just made it seem that that was automatic.”
Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival and George Brown College of Applied Arts & Technology were awarded UWI Chancellor Awards.
“As a post-secondary institution, we understand the honour that comes with receiving this award,” said George Brown’s president, Anne Sado. “We accept it with gratitude and are proud to share the distinction with Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival and so many excellent organizations and individuals this evening. For us, this award symbolizes the strength of our partnerships in helping enrich both the student and faculty experience, foster cross-cultural understanding and enable appreciation of our diverse inter-connected world.”
George Brown College and the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) have a long-standing relationship that originated in 1996 through the Canadian International Development Agency.
The inaugural Raymond Chang Memorial Award was presented to humanitarian and retired banking executive, Charles Coffey.
Last Saturday night’s sold-out fundraiser and a similar event in New York held over the last 18 years are major sources of funding for UWI scholarships. Approximately 200 Caribbean students have benefitted from scholarships derived from funds raised from the Toronto gala.
As the gala’s lead chair, Scotiabank – which has had a presence in Jamaica since 1889 – has raised almost $180,000 for the scholarship fund.
“Investing in education is probably the single most important thing that we can do to raise the quality of life throughout the Caribbean because education brings opportunity,” said Bruce Bowen, Scotiabank’s senior vice-president for the English-speaking Caribbean. “Our support for scholarships at UWI means we put opportunity within the reach of gifted young men and women who might not otherwise have that opportunity.
“These young people work as multipliers, leveraging the opportunity that UWI presents them and transforming not only their own lives but the lives of their families and their communities and they serve to inspire future generations for success. They represent future leaders of the region, leaders that will work and grow our economies and improve the welfare of people across the Caribbean.”
Following the death last July of the gala patron, Raymond Chang; his wife, Donette Chin-Loy Chang and Chang’s children – Andrew Chang and Brigette Chang-Addorisio – shared the patron duties.
“We are proud to celebrate this year’s distinguished honourees, representing so many diverse fields and contributions,” said Chin-Loy Chang. “Their stories inspire our scholarship award winners to believe in their dreams, work hard to achieve their goals and always know that light, learning and liberty guide their path.”
Ryerson University president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Sheldon Levy and Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong were the event co-chairs.
“We are united in the belief that when we give students the support they need to strive for their goals, the wide-ranging benefits come home to us all,” said Levy.
The successful fundraiser ended on a high note with auctioneer Gordon Cressy squeezing an additional $33,000 from the audience for Shaggy to perform his hit singles “Boombastic” and “Angel”.
The UWI was established in 1948 as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in a special relationship with the University of London. The university has provided thousands of scholarships since it opened 67 years ago with 23 male and 10 female students who began their academic journey in wooden huts in Jamaica that once housed war refugees from Gibraltar and Malta.