As equity director of the Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team (CSLIT), 17-year-old Kalem McSween is responsible for ensuring that Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) students are motivated to voice their concerns about issues pertaining to racial and ethnic relations, anti-bullying, anti-homophobia and mental health.
With nearly 90,000 students enrolled in the TCDSB, McSween has a demanding role that he takes very seriously. Raised in one of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods, he’s aware of the pressing challenges young people – especially visible minorities – face.
The Grade 12 student was honoured for his leadership with an Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Award last week at Queen’s Park.
“I was stunned when I received a letter in the mail saying that I was a winner,” said the Chaminade College School student who was also a peer mentor to academically and socially struggling Grade Nine students.
The school’s principal, Carmine Settino, nominated McSween for the award.
“Kalem’s genuine concern for the greater good has led him in the direction of improving our own school community by participating in the mentorship program,” the principal said. “His ability to lead, motivate and engage student participation has contributed to creating the ‘brotherhood’ that exists in our all-male high school.”
McSween is a 2009 graduate of the Toronto Police Service Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI), a program that engages high school students between the ages of 14 and 17 from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods, many of whom face significant challenges, including finding summer employment. He was one of five graduates who returned the following year to help with the production of a promotional video.
“The YIPI program opened doors for me and it also took me out of my comfort zone,” McSween said. “I was a very shy person before I enrolled in the program.”
There were 176 nominees for the Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year award. McSween was one of 12 winners to be recognized with a plaque from the province’s Lieutenant Governor David Onley for initiative, dedication, courage and leadership.
“Through these acts, they have shown outstanding leadership,” said Onley. “In fact, they are local heroes in every sense…Every one of you is a special individual and together you have the power to make our province a more caring and inclusive society for us all. I applaud your families for raising conscientious and innovative youngsters.”
Promoted through the Ontario Community Newspapers Association, the awards are supported by Direct Energy and TD Bank Group.
Dr. Jane Thompson, the bank’s executive director of scholarships, told the winners their dedication and commitment has made a huge difference in communities across the province.
“You are a true inspiration,” she said. “We are proud to recognize you and everything you have accomplished. Clearly, each of you saw a need and stepped up to do something…The devotion to really getting things done is what sets you apart. That engagement is driven by an inner spark and we know that that spark must have been nurtured.”
The awards, which honour young people between the ages of six and 17, were established in 1981.
By RON FANFAIR