Commitment to excellence recognized at BHM celebration
February 16, 2017
Leaving Jamaica on a student visa in 1971 to pursue health studies at Ryerson, Winston Miller had every intention of returning home to use the acquired knowledge and skills.
However, the best laid plans often go awry as he is still in Canada 46 years later having contributed significantly to the public health sector at the municipal and provincial levels.
With nearly three decades of experience as an environmental health and disease control specialist under his belt, Miller also served as president of the Ontario Health Association and international programs director for Christian Blind Mission (Canada) which is an international organization committed to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities in the world’s challenged communities.
Luck sometimes plays a key role in one’s life.
A graduate of Jamaica’s Titchfield High School which celebrated its 230th anniversary last year, Miller – who was honoured recently at a Black History Month celebration in Markham -- was privileged to experience good fortune on a few occasions.
“When I was in high school, I met the medical health officer for the parish of Portland at a careers convention,” he recalled. “He spoke to me about the need for people to serve other people, particularly in the areas of education and health. I was hooked.”
Miller applied for a visa to come to Canada after a chance encounter with a Canadian soldier who was vacationing in Jamaica.
“He was also a camp hygienist and he told me there were public health training opportunities,” he said. “That’s the reason that I came here and applied to go to Ryerson. I did very well and the Ministry of Public Health offered me a bursary that I couldn’t accept because of my status. They offered to get my residency on the condition that I would work with them for a minimum three years.”
After fulfilling his contract, Miller was set to return home to take up an assignment with the Ministry of Health.
“Opportunities came up here and I stayed,” he pointed out.
The City of Markham collaborated with the Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association (MACCA) and York Region District School Board to organize the 20th annual Black History Month awards celebration.
His wife of 36 years – Cloetha Miller was a registered nurse, who practiced in Jamaica, the United States and Canada where she was a critical care nurse in Sunnybrook’s Health Service Centre’s neurosurgical intensive care and trauma units – was an active MACCA volunteer before she passed away in October 2009.
To perpetuate her memory, the widower and their sons Dr. Garfield Miller – a past MACCA scholarship recipient, a University of Ottawa university associate professor and the first Black to enter the University of Toronto’s ophthalmology residency program – and Richard Miller who is an Ontario Human Rights Commission lawyer – have been donating scholarships to MACCA since 2010.
Miller, who is the secretary of Talking Book Library which is the only audio book provider to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind with a focus on producing Christian-themed material, was among seven award recipients.
He dedicated his award to high school teacher Myrtle Earle who passed away three weeks ago in Jamaica.
“In addition to being my teacher at school, she was my Sunday School teacher, the director of my youth choir and a mentor,” Miller, who attended the funeral, said. “She always encouraged me by saying there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish.”
She was right.
Other award winners were MACCA board members Elvis De Younge who is a senior information technology analyst at TD Bank and Jennifer Barnswell who is a Scotia Bank senior adviser, broadcaster Kerry Lee Crawford, counsellor Earl Smith, York Regional Police detective Maurice James and York Region Children’s Aid Society diversity & outreach supervisor Michael Bowe.
The annual program also featured the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Secondary School dance group, MACCA steel pannists, spoken word artists Nadine Williams and Vaughan Secondary School student Jetavia Edwards, the Crawford Adventist Academy orchestra, the St. Justin Martyr Catholic School 12-member dance medley group, reflections by long-time Markham resident and Justice of the Peace Tessa Benn-Ireland and a keynote address delivered by lawyer Andrew Nunes who is a partner at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin.
Nunes told the many young people in the audience that they should never settle for mediocrity.
“Just look around and you will see many modern-day examples of Black excellence,” he said. “It’s there in all realms – business, politics, government, education and even in the homes where we raise our children. If they can do it and if I can do it, you can do it. The sky is the limit.”
Notwithstanding the ability to achieve, Nunes said the journey will not always be smooth.
“Achievement is not automatic and it’s not necessarily easy,” he added. “When you see someone excel, what you often do not see are the countless hours of work that is being put in behind the scene to get them where they are. In order for you to achieve the success that you want, you have to put in the effort and you have to have the will to push through.
“There will be disappointment and you will face stumbling blocks sometimes. You have to turn them into stepping stones. You have to take what may seem like a negative situation, turn it into something positive and use it to elevate you to the next level. You need to see it as an opportunity to up your game. You need to change your view, you need to change your thinking and you sometimes even need to change your approach…If you want to be a champion, you have to have the will, you have to push when times get tough and you have to make sacrifices.”
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti and several council members along with Jamaica’s consul general Lloyd Wilks, York Regional Police deputy chief Andre Crawford and several of his officers attended the ceremony.