Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Black bencher encourages students to excel

Black bencher encourages students to excel
By Neil Armstrong

Tanya Walker, the first elected black female bencher from Toronto in the 219-year history of the Law Society of Upper Canada, has advised new post-secondary students that the principles behind excellence should become a set of beliefs and their natural way of thinking.

This was her first presentation since she was sworn in as bencher on August 8. Benchers are elected every four years by lawyers, and regulate lawyers and paralegals.

She was the keynote speaker at the United Achievers’ Club annual scholarship and recognition awards held in Brampton, Ontario on September 17.

Walker told the 15 scholarship recipients that they already know about excellence because they have had a goal and now they are working on a new one, which may be to complete college or university with distinction.

“You are living in a great time to achieve excellence, for instance, technology is so advanced now virtually any question you may have might be answered on Google,” she said.

Walker said she graduated high school in 1987and at that time there was a study of blacks in Toronto that graduated from high school.

The graduation rate was 44% almost twenty years ago; 15% would go to university and 9% to college.

She said the most recent report shows that the rate has increased by 20%, approximately 65% of blacks graduate from high school with 24% heading off to university and 17% to college.

“When I was in high school, I knew of very few black partners at accounting and law firms. Hearing of a black CEO was rare. In entertainment, we had few leading black actors on drama TV. More than ever there are now black partners at accounting and law firms.”

She said as minorities, immigrants and children of immigrants “we should be proud of ourselves” but there’s still so much more to do.

Walker noted that in Canada, on average, a black person earns 10-15% less than a white person and that there is a justice gap where there is an overrepresentation of black men in prison.

Black male inmates account to 9% of the total prison population while they only represent around 3% of the Canadian population.

“We can all work together to make a difference in our society,” she said.

Walker shared three pointers with the students of what they can do, as young leaders, to continue to achieve excellence.

“Be confident in who you are,” she said, telling them that they are unique. “Embrace who you are and don’t let anyone define you. Remember you have the right to be where you are. You have the right to head where you’re going.”

The second point is to learn from failure. “You’ll encounter bumps in the road but it’s important to learn from it, develop a strategy, and push forward.”

The lawyer told them to never view their challenges an embarrassment, noting that it is important to understand that “your experiences facing and overcoming adversity is one of your biggest advantages.”

“If I didn’t have the hardworking qualities of resilience that my Jamaican parents taught me I would have given up on being a lawyer,” she told them.

“Third, you have an obligation to give back, especially to this organization. As children of immigrants or immigrants yourself you cannot encounter the world with a sense of entitlement and you cannot be ignorant of what our parents, our grandparents and our ancestors have sacrificed for us so that we may be where we are.”

She said there is also a need for empathy and there is the need to “place your hand behind you to lift up others. Do not climb the ladder and then pull it up behind you.”

The scholarship recipients are: Shontia Anderson (Guelph-Humber), Kymani Carter (Sheridan College), Kiana Crawford-Matthews (University of Toronto-Mississauga), Vashti Darko (Carleton University), Jordan Gray (Carleton University), Sydney Hussett (McMaster University), Raenelle Manning (Carleton University), Jalesa Martin (University of Western Ontario), Benjamin McDonald (University of Toronto), Justin Martin ( Wilfrid Laurier University), Akachukwu Nwakoby (McMaster University), Caitlin Peart (University of Guelph-Humber), Dene Pellington (University of Toronto, Mississauga), Sanjay Persad (Sheridan College), and Katerah Phillips (Sheridan College).
Tanya Walker, Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada and Founder of Walker Law PC in Toronto, Canada. Photo credit: David Spencer, DSi Fun Photos

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