Decked out to impress last Saturday night with the smiles on their young faces beaming like neon success stories, a confident group of elementary and high school students offered a glimpse of the real representation of their Rexdale community, which is far too often besmirched by gun violence and other negative behaviour.
The occasion was the Trust 15 third annual student success fundraiser at Woodbine Banquet & Convention Hall, where the students in glamorous suits and stunning evening dresses lined up on both sides of the red carpet to welcome guests that included Mayor John Tory, deputy mayor Vincent Crisanti, Member of Parliament Dr. Kirsty Duncan, trustee Michael Ford, Toronto Argonauts vice-chair Michael “Pinball” Clemons and his wife, Diane; former Ontario Fairness Commissioner Jean Augustine, Toronto Police deputy chief Peter Sloly, who is on the organization’s board of directors and Superintendent Ron Taverner, who is the 23 Division unit commander.
Marcia Brown, a 2011 recipient of the Ontario’s Premier Award for Teaching Excellence, started the Trust 15 organization that encompasses the Men of Distinction, Ladies on the Move and Girls on the Rise programs that promote and facilitate positive behaviour, creative expression and co-operative working skills.
Earning the trust from the marginalized community and the 15 girls with whom Brown started the Ladies on the Move program led to the name, Trust 15.
“I am here because I love the young people who are performing so well and making us proud,” said Tory. “I am also here because I love Marcia Brown. In my job, I get to see a lot of inspiring and difficult things. But when you see what Marcia is doing, it’s inspiring. I would like to see programs like Trust 15 right across Toronto.”
Speaking directly to the young people, Tory said he’s proud to be the Mayor of a city that produces young people like them who possess ambition, talent and an interest in self-improvement and in their community.
“I am determined to help you achieve your dreams,” he told them. “I stand ready to provide the support I can and help remove the obstacles that are in your way.”
A supporter of the program from the inception, Dr. Duncan often reads for the girls and boys and teaches them Scottish dance.
“I love our children,” she said. “They are smart, caring, motivated and have big dreams. One of the great joys is coming to read with them, listen to their written stories and teach them dance. I always leave inspired. They are beautiful young people with whom I am enormously proud of. This organization is fundamental to our community.”
North Albion Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student, Kwaku Agyemang, was recruited by Brown to join the Men of Distinction program.
He’s glad he took up her offer.
“I was the Master of Ceremony at a school event and she was in the audience,” he said. “At the end, she came up to me and told me about this wonderful program she had. I am so happy I became part of it because it has taught me to strive for success and be accountable for my actions.”
Recently landing a job as an announcer on 401radio.com, which is an online radio station, Agyemang’s first guest on his one-hour Friday night program – Playful Politics – was Brown.
Accepted to York University to pursue political studies, the young man is instead leaning to Ryerson University and its radio & television arts program.
A graduate of the Men of Distinction program, Wilfrid Laurier University business administration program student Pablo Milandu promised he would always be there to support the program that’s bereft of government funding.
“The biggest thing I brought away was how to carry myself,” he said. “I will always be proud to say I am a Man of Distinction from Rexdale. I will wear that honor proudly.”
Yolande Walters said the grassroots program has had a positive effect on her daughter, 15-year-old Tanice Williams.
“She’s more motivated, focused and outgoing,” said Walters. “It’s so easy now for her to operate outside her comfort zone. Before coming to the program, she was shy.”
Retired Toronto District School Board principal, Janice Searles, said programs like Trust 15 make a difference in the lives of young people.
“It gives me so much pride to see young people rise to the occasion and take pride in who they are and what they can achieve,” she said. “I wish a program like this was all over the city, province and country.”