In preparing to write an essay for Jamaica National Building Society’s (JNBS) Black History Month competition about an individual who has inspired him, Jalen Fairclough didn’t have to go far to look for his subject.
It was right there in his home in the form of his father, who overcame several hurdles to become a workplace safety and prevention services consultant.
Migrating from Jamaica at age 16 to join his mother, who was working at three jobs at the time to support her family, Craig Fairclough lived in community housing and resisted his high school guidance counsellor’s advice to attend college.
“There’s nothing wrong with going to college,” he said. “But I was hoping that she would have encouraged me to upgrade my marks which were a bit low at the time so I could enter university.”
Working part-time while enrolled in Ryerson University’s engineering program proved challenging for Fairclough, who changed his major after the first year and completed his degree in environmental studies. In 1998, he graduated with a Master’s in Occupational Health.
Jalen Fairclough is impressed with his dad’s perseverance and commitment to higher education.
“In the face of some challenges, he could have given up, but he didn’t,” said the 14-year-old St. Mary Catholic Secondary School student, who aspires to be a physiotherapist. “He is my role model and it was an honour to share his story with a wider audience.”
Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School student, Dana Chisholm, was also proud to showcase a family member in her essay.
“My aunt Dell (Brotherton) is one of the strongest women I know,” said the Grade 11 student, who intends to become a forensic scientist. “She’s my biggest supporter and she always tells me I can achieve anything I want to once I put in the effort. She’s just an amazing lady.”
Tahnee Pitter-Duncan, a Grade 12 student at Central Technical School, was the first prize winner with a $1,000 bursary and an iPad mini 3.
She lauded a middle school teacher in her essay.
“The Black kids always felt slighted and we tried hard to act like the White students,” said Pitter-Duncan, who is seeking to be a heavy equipment technician. “One day, this teacher pulled me aside and let me know in no uncertain manner that that was not the way to go.”
Turned on to visual arts at a young age, 16-year-old Simone Swaby’s role model is screenwriter, producer and director, Shonda Rhimes, who eight years ago was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 people who help shape the world.
“Her stories are inspiring and she has paved the way for many Blacks in the entertainment industry,” said Swaby, who is a Grade 11 student at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School in Mississauga.
When it came to picking a subject for his essay, the choice was easy for Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute student, Ali Hassan. The air cadet’s squadron is named after late Ontario Lieutenant Governor, Lincoln Alexander.
“I have learned a lot about his life in the last few years,” said Hassan, who is aiming to become a teacher. “He has made an impact on my life.”
There were a total of 12 finalists for the second annual JNBS essay competition.
“As part of our community outreach, we wanted to engage young people during Black History Month and get them to write about the people who have impacted their lives,” said Jerrold Johnson, the organization’s interim chief representative officer. “We were very happy with the response.”