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Black History Month - Celebrating Black Excellence 107
Black History Month - Celebrating Black Excellence
 

 Feature Video of the Week

 

A YRDSB Story: Zena Utsalo
As we continue to Celebrate Black Excellence, meet grade 12 student, Zena Utsalo. \n\nZena moved here from Nigeria with her family, and has a passion for the fashion industry. It was during her exchange program in Paris, France that she knew this was the career for her. Now she is 1 of 6 Canadians who have been accepted into the London College of Fashion. \n\nZena is a passionate young woman, who has exemplified what hard work and dedication can achieve.\n\nCongratulations on your accomplishments, Zena!\n\nFollow us!\n\nTwitter: https://bit.ly/2JF3TZC\nInstagram: https://bit.ly/2LGAmBB


​Fe​ature Stories


Paul Jones


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“George, look how far we’ve come from 1982!” Paul Jones yelled to George Cope, the now-retired executive at Bell Canada, from the side of the court after game six of the NBA Finals at California’s Oakland Arena. 

It wasn’t the first time Jones and Cope had worked together in basketball; Jones coached Cope as a player at the University of Western Ontario, but an NBA championship was new to both of them. Cope was there representing Bell Canada; the company has an ownership stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the Raptors. Jones was there doing what he’s been doing for 35 years, talking basketball.

Jones, or “Jonesy” as his friends call him, has loved basketball all his life. 

Originally from Jamaica, Jones moved to Canada when he was only five months old. He describes his family’s journey to Canada as one of “initiative.” His father had visited Canada to see his sister, who was in law school at the University of Toronto, and he decided to stay, bringing his wife and young son up shortly after. Jones pointed out that it was ironic that his father passed on the top radio job in Jamaica to remain in Canada, where both Paul and his brother Mark would become broadcasters.

Broadcasting isn’t the only thing that runs in Jones’ family. 

“My grandfather was a teacher and a principal in Africa and in England,” he explained. Jones would eventually follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, obtaining a Masters in Sports Psychology and a teaching degree at York University and the University of Western Ontario. He continued to play basketball through his undergrad, playing on two all-star teams and being named a Finals MVP while at York. He also spent some time playing professionally in Europe.

While at Western, he got into coaching, spending one year with the women’s team and two years with the men’s team. It was his love of coaching that brought him to teaching. Jones started as an occasional teacher with Toronto District School Board in 1984 and joined York Region District School Board (YRDSB) as a Principal in 1999. 

He didn't put his love of basketball on hold due to a day job though. He joined TSN in 1985 on the advice of his brother Mark, who was also employed by the network at the time. Jones would watch games and write scripts for the commentators. He thought he had to step away when he was finally accepted to a long-term occasional teaching job, however TSN convinced him to stay on. There were times the two jobs would intersect, “I would bring my marking in (to the TSN office),” Jones explained. He remembers calling parents during halftime at Raptors’ games.

Despite working both jobs, Jones remained committed to his schools and students. “What Paul doesn’t tell you is his impact on new vice-principals at the time,” said friend and former colleague Michael Cohen, currently a superintendent of education at YRDSB, “(his personality) just brought people together.”

Cohen also noted that Jones shares stories with a purpose, something he brought into the classroom as well. He used basketball as a way of helping students connect what they were taught in school to the working world.

He recalls asking students “who thinks there are too many rules in school?” and seeing a flurry of hands go up. When he pressed about what kind of rules the students didn’t like, he got responses of “well, if you’re late you get a detention.”  Jones responded with “well, that’s good.  If you’re late with (former Raptors Head Coach) Sam Mitchell, you get fined like $500 a minute.”  When many students said they thought they should have access to their cell phones, he told them “when a phone goes off in a Raptor meeting, you’re fined like $2,000 per ring.”  “I’m trying to draw connections for them,” Jones explained.

He remained with YRDSB until 2006, when he was offered a full-time broadcasting job. He recalls meeting the Director of Education at the time, Bill Hogarth, in an Aurora fast-food restaurant. Hogarth told him, “we’re about opportunity. What do we tell kids?  Follow your dreams.” He has now been solely focused on broadcasting for more than 10 years and can be heard on a variety of networks including TSN, Sportsnet and NBA Canada TV.  He’s now a freelancer.  “Whoever’s got the game or is connected with the game, that’s who I work for,” he said.

He admits that he misses teaching, especially working with kids, and the collaborative nature of the work. He has been able to transfer some of his teaching skills into his life in broadcasting, including the importance of being a team player and much of the leadership training he received as an administrator at YRDSB.

In his personal life, Jones enjoys playing golf, reading biographies and travelling.  He also stays busy keeping up with the academic and athletic pursuits of his children. His daughter is a four-time academic all-Canadian.

When asked if he thought the Raptors could do it again, he replied, “yeah. I definitely think they could.”

 
 

Richard Walters 

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Richard Walters describes himself as a passionate, upcoming artist who dabbles in acting, music and dance, however, he also considers himself a dreamer and hopes his fans feel the same way. “Beyonce has her beehives,” Walters explains. “My followers are the dreamers.”  

Walters was very youn​​g when he discovered his love of music and dance.  One day when he was a child, his daycare attendant put on Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson.  “It got my attention as soon as I heard it, I wondered who this person was,” Walters said. “I would say Michael Jackson is the main reason I started doing what I do.”

Long before he was walking the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Walters was refining his craft. He wrote his first song, called Speak, around the time he entered high school, speaking out against bullying. “To quote the song ‘if you’re looking for help but nobody hears you, you have to speak’,” Walters explained.  

Walters began to see acting as a potential career after he was accepted to the drama program at Unionville High School. He credits teachers Aaron Bieman and Robert Cook for creating a safe environment to learn as a young actor.  

While most of his classmates were collecting their diplomas and looking to move on to post-secondary or the working world, Walters was preparing to go to a new high school, this one “a lot more dramatic” than Unionville H.S.. He joined the cast of Degrassi, a show that has spawned stars such as Drake. Walters’ success speaks to his perseverance; it was on his seventh audition that he landed the role of Tiny Bell. He had acted before first appearing on The Family Channel’s The Next Step as a dancer. However, Degrassi he said was his biggest project to date. 

He has worked on many projects since then and has been nominated for numerous awards.  One of the highlights of his career was attending TIFF when one of the films he appeared in, American Woman, was screened at the festival. He was able to walk the red carpet, meet fans and have his mother attend the film screening.  

Walters didn’t take a lot of time to savour his accomplishments. He was quickly back to work with his best friend and business partner Calyx Passailaigue, another Unionville H.S. grad.  They are striving to have a film of their own show at TIFF in the future. “That’s always been the goal,” Walters explained.  

Even with so much of his time tied up in acting, Walters makes time to engage in his other passions. He released another single, Vibing, in mid-2019. Vibing was heavily influenced by the way art helps connect people, Walters explained. “It’s one of the best ways to communicate with another person without even speaking,” he said. The video conveys the message that you don’t have to be the best to enjoy something. Everyone is having a good time dancing in the video, despite their varying levels of skill, Walters said. The music video is available on Walters’ YouTube channel Morpheus Richards, a name that reckons back to Walters’ “dreamer” mentality, as Morpheus is the Greek God of dreams.  

In the future, Walters and Passailaigue are going to continue working on a film that Passailaigue wrote. They also plan to work with some fashion designers Walters met at TIFF on some collaborative projects. These projects will include a couple of Walters’ and Passailaigue’s friends and fellow Unionville H.S. grads, Andon Campbell and Tre Michael Bullen, a group Walters calls “The Collective.”  “There’s a lot of great, exciting stuff coming out in the new year,” he said.  



 

Milton Hart

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Milton Hart is a man who is driven by his core values, values that include equity, perseverance and lifelong learning. A former military officer in both Jamaica and Canada, Hart’s work ethic took him to the Olympics, won him multiple awards in track and lead to a successful teaching career with York Region District School Board (YRDSB).  

While such success could be driven by a desire for personal glory, this is not true of Hart. “I’m a true believer in the idea that I wouldn’t be here had it not been for some people who took an interest in me when I was small and making my mistakes,” Hart said. “I think my job now is to ensure the younger generation is set up for success.” This belief is reflected in his teaching, coaching and commitment to championing equity. Long before he was working in schools, Hart was an Infantry Soldier in the Jamaican Military.  He served with the Jamaican Armed Forces between 1984 and 1992. It was his time in the Jamaican Military that led him to both the Olympics and to Canada.  

The Jamaican Bobsled team practiced on military property. Once Hart learned more about the sport and their need for strong sprinters, he joined the team. He went on to compete with the team in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.  

Around this time, Hart also applied to become a permanent resident of Canada, choosing.  He chose Canada because of his experience working closely with the Canadian Bobsled Team. He was also interested in  York University. “If I ever decide to further my education, I think this would be the school,” he remembers thinking at the time. He said he was especially impressed by their track facilities.  

Moving to Canada didn’t mean he was finished with military service. Once he arrived in Canada, he became a Commissioned Officer and received a letter from Queen Elizabeth II, a memory that he still looks back upon fondly.  He said the letter read “You, Milton Hart, are allowed to lead my troops and they have a responsibility to follow you.” Hart described his military experience as “amazing.” “I am a protector of the state. That got me up mornings, helped me to stay up late at night,” he explained.  

A lifelong learner, Hart spent two years as President of the St. George’s College Alumni Association, the school he attended in Jamaica. Through his Queens Commission.JPG
alumni work, he assisted with initiatives to help financially support the school and provide scholarships for graduates.  

Hart joined YRDSB as a teacher in 2008.  He now also teaches adults as an English professor at Seneca College. While he spends a lot of his time teaching, Hart is also a big advocate for learning from others.  He explained that everyone can learn from the experiences of other people. “Equity is all about fairness. Equity is championing differences, celebrating them, not seeing differences as impediments, but as fantastic ways of everybody learning,” he stated.

Despite the time he has spent moving around, Hart isn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon. He is still teaching in YRDSB, and he’s still running.    “I heard the other day that I broke the 50-metre Canadian record, which is just fantastic,” he said. He also has the Ontario and Quebec championships coming up on the Master’s Circuit. 


Even with so much going on, Hart remains focused on his main task of being an educator.  “I’m blessed by virtue of the fact that I have seen so many things,” he said. “Now with all that blessing, all that experience with everything I’ve learned, I think it would be prudent of me to pass that back onto kids”.  



 
 

Ashley Lewis


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​Technology can seem impersonal at times. Ashley Jane Lewis, a New Media graduate from Toronto’s Ryerson University is working to change that. “Code drives the way that we are able to access community, through social media, code drives the algorithms that determine what my insurance package looks like, code drives the algorithms that determine where I am first offered opportunities to live, code drives the systems that categorize my identity in government files” she explained, when talking about why it is important to develop technology with a human lens.  “I think for a long time, perhaps ever, the existence of technology has not centered humans and therefore has created a lot of unempathetic, inaccurate and biased systems… If that’s going to change at all, we have to change the origin point of how we produce technology and make it more human centred.” This is something she would include when she taught code later on.
 
Lewis didn’t enter the New Media program with a goal of changing how machines think, in fact, she almost went into post-secondary for clarinet, an instrument she played in her high school concert band. An artist from a very young age, the program ended up blending a couple of her interests together; “I was really interested in the hybridity of technology and art, and it’s capacity to reach more people than the audience who are standing in front of your piece," she said. Lewis admits she didn’t know she would be coding when she entered the program. She recalls wondering “what have I gotten myself into?” on her first day of school when she learned her program involved coding and math, a subject she didn’t enjoy in high school. 
 
The way Lewis learned to code greatly impacted the way she would teach it later on, although it was not through emulation. “(When) I found myself in a position to start teaching code, it was really through social activity and game-oriented learning that I structured my workshops… I think that if we're not centreing social encounter, arts and human connection while teaching the next generation of coders, we’re not doing ourselves much of a service in the future,” she continued.  
 
Technology and art are two things that are close to Lewis’ heart, however, her passion for creativity has also driven other interests. Woodworking and baking are two other hobbies she enjoys. Keeping with her strong work ethic, Lewis enrolled in night classes at George Brown College in the Baking Arts program to work with other people who shared her interest. “(I) accidentally ended up with a Diploma in Baking Arts,” she laughed.  
 
Despite having found a wide degree of success in her chosen field, working for a variety of organizations from Toronto International Film Festival to Ryerson University to Mozilla, Lewis chose to continue her education, attending New York University’s Graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program, a program she is on track to complete in May 2020. It hasn’t just been in the classroom that Lewis has been learning, as she stated “(Brooklyn) is the first predominantly Black neighbourhood I’ve ever lived in… I feel like I’m living a version of life that could have been if I had been in an environment that was more reflective of the person I am. You don’t walk around with as much fear or as much self-conscious behaviour.  "You don't have to think about how you're being perceived.” Lewis explained the uneasiness of previously living in predominantly White neighbourhoods by saying that Black people have to prioritize their safety by finding ways to be overtly non-threatening, because of stereotypes of presumed aggression.
 
As her graduate program wraps up, Lewis said she is “not worried” about what is going to happen after. She doesn’t have a future job title in mind, however, she does know how she wants to feel; “I would like to have opportunities to give back to people who look like me, in gender and race,” she explained. “I want to have opportunities that allow me to speak critically about technology and point out a lot of the plot holes as to the things that are being put into action right now,” she added. ““I really enjoy having those conversations in a meaningful way, but also at a level that could create positive change.” She also wants to ensure her future includes art. “I don’t want to give away too much,” she said, “but there are lots of soft offers on the table that suffice all three of those things.”
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