Kirk Mark looks back on life of service
October 11, 2017
Lengthy trips can sometimes be boring and time consuming.
Not so on July 25, 1976 for Kirk Mark as he made his way on a Greyhound bus from Montreal to Toronto to attend York University.
Just a few hours earlier, he was at Olympic Stadium watching Trinidadian Hasley Crawford become the first Caribbean athlete to win the 100-metre dash at an Olympic Games.
Mark left Trinidad & Tobago while in elementary school and spent two years in England with his family before they migrated to Montreal in 1968.
“That was a very gratifying moment for us because back in the 1970s, people of African descent didn’t have a lot of accolades in a positive way in and around Montreal,” he pointed out. “All Caribbean people adopted Hasley because the symbolism of him winning meant so much for the African Diaspora from the Caribbean. That milestone victory gave people inspiration and motivation to do great things not only in sport, but other spheres. I don’t think he had any idea of the impact of that win on the Black community in Montreal.”
On a high and confident in his ability to make the York University basketball team, Mark quickly fell to earth.
Coach Bob Bain reduced the number of spots from 12 to 10 in his rookie year. With eight players returning and the remaining two spots quickly filled, Mark and retired Toronto District School Board principal and sportscaster Paul Jones, who had just graduated from Oakwood Collegiate Institute, were left in the cold.
Mark never forgave Bain who coached for 38 years at the university until 2010 and was inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame last year along with Jones’ younger brother, Mark Jones, who helped York win three provincial titles in the early 1980s.
“If you weren’t a member of a Eurocentric community,” Bob had a problem with you,” he said. “He had a phobia with difference.”
Rather than agreeing to be relegated to the taxi squad for the year as Jones chose to do, Mark opted to play basketball in a recreation league, focus on his education and complete his first degree in two years.
After four decades in the social service, insurance, banking and education sectors, he retired last month.
Mark spent the last 26 years with the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) which is the world’s largest publicly funded separate school board with 92,000 students in over 200 schools and a staff of nearly 16,000.
While riding the subway in 1990, he stumbled upon the TCDSB job opening while browsing through the classified section of a crumpled Toronto Star newspaper he picked up from the floor.
“They were looking for a community relations officer and that caught my attention,” Mark said.
Hired in 1991 while serving as president of the Ontario Basketball Association, he spent four years in that position focussing on student success, inclusive education, staff development, parental engagement and school-community partnerships, six years as the race & ethnic relations multiculturalism adviser which was a position created after the board’s re-organization based a report by KPMG released in 1995 and the last 15 as co-ordinator for the race & ethnic relations multiculturalism, curriculum and accountability department.
Changing mindsets and creating heritage posters were among the highlights of his stellar career with the school board.
“With the posters, students began to see themselves in the curriculum a little bit more and that was a major paradigm shift,” said Mark, a former Canadian Alliance of Black Educators president and Willowdale Community Legal Services founding director. “What I did was look at Catholicity through Maat (a principle that was formed to meet the complex needs of the emergent Egyptian state that embraced diverse peoples with conflicting interests). What I found was that many students had great difficulty understanding their origin. With the African-Canadian Heritage Month poster, I wanted to underscore African because within the Diaspora, there are many people who don’t see themselves as African although they are Black people.
“Part of creating the ethno-cultural heritage posters was to say, ‘If you are going to say to me you are involved in Catholic education and you say you are going to look at the bible and the 10 commandments, you better have some knowledge of where they come from and how they apply to you in your life. You also better have some knowledge of your ancestral roots’.”
Prior to coming to Toronto, Mark completed high school at Marymount where he started a cricket program and was the first Black Winter Carnival King and the first Black to win the Most Valuable Player soccer award and become president of the school’s multicultural club.
His schoolmates at Marymount and later Dawson College included Cecil Roach who is the York Region District School board coordinating superintendent.
Mark’s family ended up in Cote-des- Neiges after his late father applied for a welding job and was sponsored by two of his sisters who were resident in Montreal.
“Montreal was very cosmopolitan at the time,” recalled Mark, “There was a significant Haitian and West Indian population, so I found a haven as well as a connection with other Black people when I got there.”
Trinidadian Dr. Clarence Bayne, a professor at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, and Barbadian-born Concordia graduate Carl Whittaker founded the Black Community Central Administration of Quebec that led to the creation of several other organizations, including the Cotes-des-Neiges and Laval Black Community Associations that created programs for youths to stay in school, develop positive attitudes and learn to respect elders and their families.
“People like Clarence, Carl and Vera Jackson laid a solid platform in the community,” said Mark who launched the Toronto Basketball Association in 1977. “You had to make a contribution to the growth and development of the community, you had to stay in school and you had to assist families in need. My maternal grandparents (Alphonso and Phredestina Chrysostom) had a fundamental teaching that you treated people with dignity, fairness and respect. So when Carl, Vera and Clarence came along, it was natural for me to say,’ what do I do next’.
“Part of that we did back then was attend school during the school year, do your homework and participate in afterschool activities in community centres. We also did other things like clean up after meetings and distribute flyers and some of those activities taught us how to lead and make a contribution in a very concrete way. The reward for doing that was going to Long Sault Park for an end of summer picnic where awards were handed out and inspiring speeches were delivered.”
While pursuing his first degree, Mark worked part-time in the evenings during the week with CIBC Archives and on weekends with Children’s Aid Society (CAS) of Metropolitan Toronto as a child & youth care worker.
Securing full-time employment with CAS after graduation in 1978, he met motivational speaker Bob Proctor while attending Unity Church of Truth.
“Bob asked what I did and when I told him, he inquired if CAS was paying me as much as I was worth,” he recalled.”
An introduction to Jack Garramone who was a senior manager at Metropolitan Life led to an insurance life underwriter position that Mark held for two years before joining RBC’s Toronto visa centre as the authorizations department assistant supervisor.
It was while coming home from that job three years later that he saw the TCDSB job opening in a daily newspaper.
Though retired from the catholic school board, Mark remains active.
The doctoral candidate is doing consultancy work with community, education and corporate groups around issues of equity and inclusive education and advising parents whose children are considering attending American schools on sports scholarships.
He and his wife of 38 years – Marsha – have three children.
Tammi Castellano has been a TCDSB elementary school teacher since 1998, middle daughter Tobi Mark is a chiropodist and pastry chef and Traci Mark is an archivist with the Schomberg Centre for Research in Black Culture in New York.