Hanging with the wrong crowd and engaging in illegal activities could be dangerous and sometimes costly. Luckily for Joshua Jones, he didn’t pay for the indiscretions with his life. The 38 months he spent incarcerated was a wake-up call for the young man to turn his life around.
Jones completed high school at the City Adult Learning Centre and is set to enter Trent University in September to pursue business studies.
“In prison, I attended church and had the opportunity of listening to some motivational speakers that came in during Black History Month,” said Jones, who was presented with the Robert Brown Memorial scholarship at the Tropicana Community Services Organization’s (TCSO) annual fundraiser last Saturday night in Markham. “Those were inspiring moments for me.”
The 24-year-old, who aspires to be an entrepreneur, has taken full responsibility for his actions that led to firearm charges and prison time.
“My teachers told me I had potential, but I got into the wrong crowd and made bad decisions,” said Jones who was born in Toronto to immigrant parents from Trinidad & Tobago and Belize. “As a young man, I was trying to find myself. There was some peer pressure, but I am not going to blame anyone for what I did. It wasn’t right and I paid the price.”
If Jones was looking for assurance that he could turn his life around and become a useful citizen, he would have felt confident and at ease after listening to keynote speaker, Charles “Spider” Jones (no relation).
A gang member and convicted felon trapped in the criminal justice web without an education and employable skills for much of his youth, he turned his life around at an advanced age to fulfil his dream of becoming a broadcaster.
Encouraged by his wife – Jackie Robinson-Jones – who told him he would work for “chump change” for the rest of his life if he did not secure a decent job, the Grade Five dropout and three-time Golden Glove boxing champion returned to the classroom at age 30 to become an honour student, radio talk show host, author, motivational speaker and Premier of Ontario Award winner for outstanding achievement in the Arts.
“When my wife told me I had to go back to school, I was frightened to death because I had been an academic failure from Grade Three onwards,” said Jones, who is a Guardian Angels honorary member and accomplished vocalist. “I just didn’t think I had it in me. I have a learning disability that doesn’t allow me to process information as quickly as the average person. I thought I was dumb and stupid. I looked at my life like that and lived liked that. The only thing I learned in jail was how to read.”
Jones urged the young people in the audience, those that pass through Tropicana and others, to stay in school and get a good education.
“You need people to support you,” he told them. “If they don’t, kick them to the curb if they are going to break you down. You don’t need them. If you need direction, you have Tropicana to turn to.”
The only Black radio personality at the time with his own prime time show – The Spider’s Web – on the Fan 590, Jones hired George Stroumboulopoulos as his producer. He also mentored the young man, who is now host of Hockey Night in Canada.
In September, filming of A Dream Never Dies will begin in Detroit where Jones spent much of his early teen years. The movie is based on his biography, Out of the Darkness.
As part of the 21st annual gala, Tropicana presented a Community Builder Award to Selwyn Rouse.
A 1963 graduate of Trinidad’s St. Mary’s College, he worked in the public sector for six months before joining Texaco’s oil refinery in Pointe-A-Pierre. Coming to Canada in 1967, Rouse completed his university education and was employed as a medical laboratory technician and in pharmaceutical development before retiring nine years ago. He joined Tropicana in 1999 as a tutor and mentor.
“The relationship I have had with Tropicana and the community has been a learning and rewarding experience,” said Rouse, who was an African Heritage Educators Network (AHEN) tutor. “To receive this award for doing something that has now become part of me is indeed an honour. However I do so, remembering all the volunteers, donors, sponsors, fellow tutors and others who have given their time, talent, services and resources to impact the lives of the young people in their community.
“Understand that if we see our communities as buildings, then the young people are the bricks and they must be properly positioned for the edifice to be strong. In accepting this award, I pay tribute to my late parents who instilled in me and my seven siblings the notion that we will be defined by the way we treat others.”
This year’s President’s Award recipient was 93-year-old George Carter, who was unable to attend the event. His daughter, Linda Carter, accepted the Hummingbird Lawyers LLP-sponsored award.
The province’s second Black judge after the late Guyanese-born Maurice Charles broke the glass ceiling in 1969, Carter served in Canada’s military, worked as a porter which was the only job available to Black men in his era, graduated from law school and then served with distinction on the Bench in Ontario.
The first of 14 children, he gained his inspiration from his parents who stressed the value of education; his Jewish schoolmates with whom he developed camaraderie and relationships and the Universal Negro Improvement Association centre in Toronto, which was a meeting place for the city’s Black community to gather and have their spirits lifted by such powerful leaders as Paul Robeson, A. Phillip Randolph and Marcus Garvey.
Carter helped establish legal aid services and the Adoption of Coloured Children agency. He was also very familiar with the role and practice of land registry law.
Jamaican-born Robert Brown, who died a decade ago, established Tropicana, which became United Way’s first Black member agency in 1984.
The TCSO was set up in 1980 as a non-profit agency to serve disadvantaged youth and their families. Through its myriad diverse programs, the agency aims to increase the rate of self-employment for youth, improve access to culturally-appropriate counselling services and reduce the school drop-out rate among Black students.
With an operating budget of $10 million last year, Tropicana served nearly 20,000 clients.
A year ago, the organization relocated to its new state-of-the-art building at 1385 Huntingwood Dr. in Scarborough.