Erma Collins’ motto is “all of us have a reason for giving back to our community”.
For the retired college professor, that purpose was instilled early in life while growing up in Kingston, Jamaica.
As she recalls, there was always moral and financial support in her quest for higher education.
“If it was not a family member, it was a teacher,” said Collins who has volunteered with many community organizations, including the Jamaican Canadian Association and the Black Business & Professional Association, which honoured her with a Harry Jerome Award 14 years ago.
“There was always someone there for me and I made a promise that I would do the same for others. Education is very important to me and it was something my mother stressed. She said that if you didn’t have it, you might be subjected to the whims and fancies of the man you married. She was right in making it clear that education provides independence.”
Graduating from St. Joseph’s Teachers College in 1955, Collins taught at the elementary school level before heading to the University of Manitoba, where she received her first degree in 1963. After two years back in Jamaica, she returned permanently to Canada in 1965 and secured her Master’s in Education a decade later from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
During a distinguished 32-year career at George Brown College that ended with her retirement in 1998, Collins served as chair of the St. James campus’ English and Liberal Studies department and monitored the development and delivery of 60 post-secondary English, French and Social Sciences courses.
She also stuck to her promise to help young people in the community pursue post-secondary education, donating thousands of dollars in the last 12 years.
“I have no children, so it’s easy for me to donate,” said Collins, who has been offering JCA-administered scholarships since 2003.
The latest beneficiary of Collins’ benevolence was Alexsis Josephson, who was presented with the award at the 27th annual Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association (MACCA) scholarship ceremony last Saturday night in Markham.
The Thornlea Secondary School honour roll graduate, who is enrolled in Seneca College’s liberal arts program, aspires to become a humanitarian advocate.
A total of 22 first-year college/university students were awarded MACCA-administered scholarships worth $22,000.
“For me, this scholarship validates that my hard work in high school was not in vain,” said Richmond Hill High School honour roll graduate, Tobi Solebo, who migrated from England with his parents nine years ago. “I feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.”
A member of his high school student council and a summer camp volunteer, Solebo is pursuing business studies at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.
Carleton University criminology student, Summer Lewis, was the recipient of the Allon McKenzie Memorial Award, presented to the student who best exemplifies leadership, community involvement and the best and brightest that society has to offer.
McKenzie founded the organization in his basement in 1987 and served as the second president a year later. He died in an accident in 1995 and his family launched the award in his name 15 years ago.
“My dad believed in community engagement and supporting our young people,” said his daughter, Sophie McKenzie, who presented the award. “Our family is delighted we are able to keep his legacy alive through this award.”
The inaugural Brass Ring Award was presented to Jay McKenzie, who aspires to be a police officer.
The award is presented to a student who overcomes challenges and is striving for excellence.
“Jay was out of high school for almost three years and his marks were extremely low,” said MACCA president, Pat Howell. “He acknowledged his mistakes along the way and has vowed to work hard to be a better person and useful citizen. He fought through his personal challenges and believed in the support of his loving family and community to the point where he’s now settled in college and his marks are good.”
McKenzie graduated from Bur Oak Secondary School and is in Seneca College’s police foundations program.
In 1998, Dr. Garfield Miller – the first Black to enter the University of Toronto’s ophthalmology residency program – was awarded three community scholarships, including one from MACCA.
When his mother – Cloe Miller, a registered nurse who practiced in Jamaica, the United States and Canada where she was a critical care nurse in Sunnybrook’s Health Service Centre’s neurosurgical intensive care and trauma units – passed away five years ago, he decided to give annual scholarships to perpetuate her legacy.
This year’s winners were Stephen Lewis Secondary School graduate, Kelisha May, who is enrolled in Ryerson University’s social studies program and Tolorunlogo Akinrinola, who graduated from Bill Crothers Secondary School and is in the University of Toronto’s life sciences program.
Scholarships were also presented to Brother Andre Catholic High School graduates, Chelsey Edwards and Gabrielle Fletcher, who are enrolled at the University of Guelph and York University’s Schulich School of Business respectively; Middlefield Collegiate Institute graduate, Dayna Adams, who is in the University of Guelph-Humber applied science in family & community service program; Austin Blades, who graduated from Bill Crothers Secondary School and is studying management organization at the University of Western Ontario; Maple High School graduate, Rashad Boland, who is enrolled in Ryerson University’s arts & media production program; York University health & science student, Reanna Cato, who graduated from Vaughan Secondary School; St. Augustine Catholic High School graduate, Shae-Lynn Chung who aspires to become a lawyer; Carleton University engineering physics program student, Daniel Eastman, who graduated from St. Robert Catholic High School and Malik Ford, who is in Wilfrid Laurier University’s global studies program.
Other winners were Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy graduate and Female Athlete of the Year, Jazmine Hinds, who is enrolled in McMaster University’s medical radiation sciences program; Sheridan College visual & creative arts student, Tredel Lambert, who was the recipient of the Alliance of Educators for Black Students 2014 arts award; Maple High School graduate, Ashley Nandan, who is pursuing commerce & business management studies at Ryerson University; Ontario Scholar, Lucas Russell, who is enrolled in the University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s commerce program; Middlefield Collegiate Institute graduate, Trey Robinson, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree at Ryerson University; McMaster University student, Courtney Tidd, who was an honour roll student at Thornlea Secondary School and Taj Seaton, who aspires to work in the personalized medicine field.
Since its inception in 1987, MACCA has awarded 229 scholarships worth $175,750.
In addition to Miller, who is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute and a specialist in glaucoma and advanced anterior segment surgery at Ottawa General Hospital; several other MACCA awardees are excelling in the medical field.
They include 2004 Markham District High School graduate, Dr. Jason Holmes, who is doing his residency at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and Unionville High School graduate, Dr. Kristal Elliston-Prather, who is completing her residency training at John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore.