Markham Peace Medallion Ceremony

Ladies and Gentlemen.

I want to thank you for bestowing upon me this year’s YMCA Peace Medallion. I am deeply honoured by this award. As well, I’m somewhat surprised because we rarely think that the work we do, both professional and volunteer community service, is worthy of an award. I humbly accept this award as encouragement to continue striving for a better and healthier community for our children.

It is not possible for me to accept this award without expressing gratitude to the many individuals who have supported my efforts, who have lifted my spirits during difficult times, who have shared their ideas, energy, knowledge and skills in making my book club project a success. Among these guiding angels are the many staff and friends within the York Region District School Board, Toronto District School Board, colleagues in the community, friends and family. Many of these individuals are here today and I appreciate them taking the time to share this special occasion with me. I’d like to convey special thanks to my two guiding lights, Joshua and Tia, who share and reinforce my commitment to helping others, and who inspire me each day to be sure to leave this world a better place.

Allow me to give you a brief insight into The Nubian book club project of which I’m particularly proud. Despite its name, it is not the classic adult book club that we all know...one where members read a given book, usually one in vogue, then meet to discuss it, share a little gossip, and then depart for home. Ours is a book club, tailored for students in the elementary and secondary school panels. It is a book club with a number of objectives over and beyond that of literacy. The club draws youth from the Black and Caribbean communities but is not exclusive. The club utilizes literacy as a tool for enhancing student success, leadership skills, social skills, community engagement and respectful peer relationships. Interestingly, we also see our book club project as consistent with the main thrust of the YMCA Peace Medallion, the striving for solutions to violence, conflict and injustice.

Here we are inspired by Ghandhi’s  often quoted observation: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

The book club meets four times during the summer. Participants are not forced to attend but do so based on their own free will. At each meeting, selected literature is collectively explored, and this is usually facilitated and supported by YRDSB personnel such as Anton Skerrit, Cecil Roach, Camille Logan, Allison Lawrence,  Elizabeth Pereira and Gary Durrant, community leaders such as Superintendent Robertson Rouse of the York Regional Police, Tessa Benn Ireland and Arnel Scott, Jackie Spence from Toronto District School Board, authors and academics such as Dr. Carl James of York University, and many others too numerous to mention.

From our experience with the book club, we made the following observations:

Youth who explore literature, cultivate valuable literacy skills and are better positioned for academic success. .

Youth who dutifully participate in respectful dialogue are practising social and negotiation skills that often reduce conflict and possibly, violence.

Youth who are coached regarding appropriate behaviours are learning effective social communication skills.

Youth when presented with the chance to observe and interact with adult role models learn to make better choices being the “architect” of their own lives.

I was deeply moved by a note written by a young man who attended this past summer’s series of meetings, and would like to share some of his thoughts. He wrote:

“As a young black man growing up in today’s society, book club was more than just a bi-weekly meeting designed to keep me busy in the idle summer hours. Book club was beneficial to me in a way that most youth can relate to. It acted as a growth catalyst, catapulting my mind from that of a boy’s, to that of a man’s. With the help of the adoring, intelligent more experienced people who inspired us and gave valuable input in the circle; I have begun to see the world in a new light. For example, it has become clear in my mind that with the right motivation, there is no occupation or goal I cannot achieve. “

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been blessed by the generousity of great friends. I have been supported by well wishers through the most difficult of times when despair prevailed. I have the wealth of two wonderful children. I have the good fortune to work in the field of education. It does not take much to convince me that I can and should ‘give back’ to a community that has served me well. As Maya Angelou observed: I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

This initiative is my way of ‘throwing something back.’ I thank you for recognizing me in this way.

Know that by acknowledging my service you also honour the countless others who have helped me in my pursuit, and the young men and women who have lit this flame of inspiration in me.

ADDRESS BY DONNA CARDOZA

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