Black Physicians of Tomorrow extend helping hand
September 28, 2018
When Monique Genard tried to enrol in an academic stream in high school in Mississauga, it was suggested that she pursue applied courses.
That advice didn’t sit well with her Jamaican-born mother.
“I don’t care what your teacher says,” she recalled her mom vehemently saying at the time. “You are going to be doing academic subjects.”
Another time, the student’s request to pursue biology and chemistry studies was rejected by her academic advisor.
“I was told there was no space for me even though I could see that wasn’t the case,” said Genard who last year completed a Bachelor of Health Science degree at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). “My mother went to the school to find out what was going on and the problem was resolved within minutes. I was admitted to both classes.”
Though academic streaming was supposed to have ended nearly two decades ago, Black students continue to be guided towards essential and applied courses of study instead of being offered opportunities to participate in academic programs.
Three years ago, Genard and friends Kimberly Benn and Philippa Beaden founded the Black Physicians of Tomorrow (BPT). They met seven years ago at UOIT.
“We were in a car having a conversation about the Community of Support (COS) at the University of Toronto,” Genard remembered.
The COS provides support, guidance and opportunities to Black students preparing to enter medical school.
While the Blacks in the Greater Toronto Area comprise about 8.5 per cent of the population, it’s a community that’s under-represented in medical school.
“I thought back to the time that I was being streamed and wondered how many Black students have had to endure this,” said Genard who is the BPT’s financial director. “Me and my friends figured it would be a good idea to start a group that would help support students seeking to pursue health science careers.”
The student-led grassroots organization recently received $200,000 in funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Youth Opportunities Fund. Through STEMWORKS, Black students in the Durham region between the ages of 13 and 19 will be offered weekly mentoring, tutoring and skill workshops.
The program starts on the first Saturday in October.
“We are hoping to attract at least 30 students initially,” said Benn who is the BPT’s executive director. “We will have industry professionals come in to provide students interested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) fields with mentoring. There will be regularly hosted seminars and panel discussions with Black healthcare professionals and the young people and their caregivers will be offered skill development workshops. There will also be fun opportunities for participants to complete their community service hours.”
With recent graduates discovering that a university degree doesn’t translate into a steady job, Benn -- who is pursuing biochemistry studies at York University and hopes to specialize in paediatric cardiology -- said providing more than just academic support is imperative.
“We want to assist youths with their personal development,” she added. “With the job market evolving, it’s critical that they get the tools necessary to avoid underemployment.”
Beaden, who graduated from UOIT’s nursing program and started working as a registered nurse at Rouge Valley Centennial on September 10, is excited to be part of the youth initiative.
“My motivation to become part of the BPT was that I didn’t see enough people looking like me in health sciences,” the organization’s administrative director said. “I spent 10 years in Ghana where everyone in positions of authority looks like me.”
Returning to Canada at age 17, Beaden completed high school at Sir Wilfrid Collegiate before enrolling in university.
While walking through the hallway at Durham College two years ago, Michelle DeLyon was attracted by the BPT sign.
Graduating from the University of Windsor nine years ago with a degree in sociology & psychology, she returned to school in 2015 to pursue fitness & health promotion studies.
“That sign really captured my attention,” the BPT program & project director said.
DeLyon played a key role in preparing and writing the funding proposal.
“I have some expertise in that area as I have done it for other organizations in the past,” she added. “My dad (Paul DeLyon is a retired York Region District School Board educator) helped with editing the document and I also received some assistance from members of the community to finish it. It took about two-and-a-half months to write.”
Like DeLyon, Jamar Grandison learned about the BPT a year after it was up and running. He had just entered Durham College‘s business marketing diploma program.
“My background is in marketing and I will use my skills in that area to help advance the organization,” he said.
Grandison was a member of York University’s Business & Society (BUSO) program before switching to information technology.
“I am so impressed by Jamar’s vision and collaboration with his peers collectively to realize a well-funded project that can uplift racially marginalized youth,” said BUSO co-coordinator Dr. Caroline Shenaz Hossein. “I am very proud to mentor and assist him as he moves along this pathway to social change.”
Completing his Grade 12 education about three years after dropping out of high school just three credits short of graduating, Grandison said BPT’s goals over the next three years include a research study to grasp some of the challenges Black youths face and how they can be surmounted.
“In addition to publishing the data we will collect, we are taking active measures to increase the likelihood of success for high school students who aspire to become healthcare professionals,” he added. “Our government grant and support from organizational mentors are both points of affirmation for us.”
The STEMWORKS program will be held on Saturday mornings at Sarah McDonald’s Place community room at 1467 Whites Rd. in Pickering.
Opened 23 years ago, the building – named after former Durham District School Board educator Sarah McDonald who was honoured as one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals shortly before her retirement in 2007 – has 63 units, the majority of them rent-geared-to-income.
Fred Gibson, the president of Sarah McDonald’s Place board of directors since 2002, joined vice-chair Elkanah Clarke and Secretary Raphael Francis, who was a lecturer for 28 years in Durham College’s School of Science & Technology, in supporting the program.
“Anything that has to do with education and the upliftment of young people are things that I fully endorse,” said Gibson who migrated from Barbados 51 years ago.