It was very easy for Dr. Joel Kerr to come up with excuses for going down the wrong path in life.
Raised without a father in designated priority neighbourhoods in Scarborough, he lost older brother David Bryan to gun violence in 2001 and his two sisters have been in trouble with the law.
On enrolling in Senator O’Connor College School in Grade Nine, Kerr aspired to be a doctor and found someone that helped him to achieve that goal.
“I was extremely fortunate to get a guidance counsellor who guided me to do what I wanted to do,” he said. “That was critical to my success because counsellors, on too many occasions, attempt to determine which sandbox you should fit into without taking into consideration students’ aspirations.”
Kerr’s interest peaked when he learned of the University of Toronto Summer Mentorship Program for Black and Aboriginal students. The program was designed to provide a focus for students with both an interest and aptitude for the sciences and particularly for those who otherwise would not have available mentorship opportunities.
“I didn’t know such a program existed, but I trusted my guidance counsellor’s judgement when she told me I should apply,” he said.
Accepted in the 1996 intake, Kerr soon found himself doing research in the program that also provides students with a high school co-op credit and the opportunity to reach maximum levels of academic achievement.
“I am an outgoing and friendly person and I felt that doing research in a lab environment was just not for me,” he said. “I was very bored and frustrated and when the co-ordinator noticed I was unhappy, she sent me to a chiropractor.”
Residing in Scarborough at the time, it took Kerr nearly three hours by train, bus and foot to get to the office on the first day.
“When I got there, I was hungry, tired and annoyed,” he said. “This small chiropractor lady invited me into her office to observe her work on a heavy set man and then she sat me down and explained to me what a chiropractor does. I was fascinated and I did my research and found someone in my community who looked like me and on whose shoulder I could lean on for mentorship and advice in the field.”
Dr. Christopher Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness which is an interdisciplinary health centre in the city. He is also the former president of the Black Health Alliance that’s a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in collaboration to advance the health and well-being of the Black community.
“Growing up without a father, I was always trying to find male role models that I could emulate,” said Kerr. “Chris fitted that role perfectly.”
After graduating with a physical education health degree from the University of Toronto, Kerr secured his Doctorate of Chiropractic degree from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and completed the Contemporary Medical Acupuncture course for health professionals at McMaster University.
A certified Active Release Technique (ART) provider of the lower limb and spine, Kerr was the official team doctor for the Oshawa Power of the National Basketball League of Canada. He enjoys working at the grassroots level with young athletes and is currently the health & fitness consultant for multiple competitive sports teams in the Greater Toronto Area.
Three years ago, he founded The Health Institute (THI) that offers manual therapy and nutritional training. In addition to Kerr who is the institute’s director of therapy, the team comprises a kinesiologist, counsellor, exercise physiologist, registered massage therapist and personal trainer.
“Our primary focus is on athletic youth and seniors,” he said. “We have specialized programs for each group and we operate the old-fashioned way by making house calls to retirement homes and personal residences.”
Kerr, who was recently appointed chair of the summer mentorship alumni society advisory committee, also reaches out to young Black males who need guidance.
He fondly recalls his meeting with a young man who was in his fourth year in university.
“He was getting into trouble and he didn’t know what he wanted to do when he graduated,” said Kerr. “I pitched him the idea of entering the health care sector which he did.”
Guisa Ahmed is now the THI’s director of active rehabilitation who uses his education and experience to play an integral role in various aspects of clinical care, rehabilitation, weight management and health education.
A few years after delivering a talk to a group of high school students, Joseph Acquaye approached Kerr to tell him that the speech had impacted his life.
“This young man’s life was not on the right trajectory in his high school days and he said he turned his life around after the presentation I made,” Kerr said. “That admission along with getting married and having a child are the proudest moments of my life so far.”
A former vice-president of the U of T’s physical and health education undergraduate association, Acquaye was the 2010 recipient of the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award and a Black Business & Professional Association national scholarship winner a year earlier.
He is a second-year medical student at Howard University.
Diana Alli, a retired senior officer in the U of T Faculty of Medicine, said Kerr has come a long way.
“I recall Joel as a young Grade 10 high school student facing incredible personal odds when he enrolled in the summer mentorship program,” she said. “Today, with almost five degrees after his name, no parental financial support and a huge financial debt under his belt, he’s now one of Toronto’s outstanding chiropractors and fitness trainers. He also gives back to his community and especially to the mentorship program by motivating high school students as a keynote speaker and research poster judge.”