Saturday, 24 November 2018

Students Urged to Have a Purpose and a Drive

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Natural Images  Leadership by Design (LBD) cohort 2018 students who were inducted into the signature program of the Lifelong Leadership Institute (LLI) on Nov. 3 at OISE, University of Toronto

Forty-four Grade 10 high school students have been inducted into the Leadership by Design (LBD) program, a signature leadership-development initiative of the Lifelong Leadership Institute in Toronto.

The students who entered Grade 10 in September are the newest cohorts of the program. The others are the cohort 2017 (Grade 11) and cohort 2016 (Grade 12) students who are graduating from high school next June.

 The LBD program aims to provide an array of opportunities for the personal,
social and career development of Black youth.

The students will remain enrolled in the program throughout their Grades 10, 11 and 12 years, and throughout their years of post-secondary studies.

Speaking at the induction ceremony on November 3 at OISE, University of Toronto, Cornell Wright, a corporate lawyer who is the co-head of mergers and acquisitions at Torys LLP, told them that public schools are one of the most important institutions in society because every student has the same opportunity.

Using his life as an example, the recipient of the Black Business and Professional Association's (BBPA) first Harry Jerome Award for leadership said he learnt about leadership from he was 13 or 14 and had a summer job stuffing envelopes in the office of his uncle, Trevor Massey, who was the registrar at Centennial College.

He said he was inspired from seeing a black person in charge in an office. Massey, now retired, is the chair of the Lifelong Leadership Institute.

 “What is it that you want to become? What is it that you want to do that is going to make the world a better place?”

Photo credit: Natural Images     Cornell Wright, a corporate lawyer and co-head of mergers and acquisitions at Torys LLP, was the keynote speaker

Wright encouraged the students to have a purpose, a vision and a sense of what they want to accomplish.

He implored them to have a drive, noting that there are people who wait for things to happen to them and others who aim to make things happen.

Currently, the chair of the board of directors of the National Ballet of Canada, Wright urged them to have confidence.

People can sometimes doubt themselves too much and I think that you have to actually reverse that. You have to ask yourself not how can I do something but why shouldn’t I do something. Reverse the onus,” he said, noting that confidence is the number one thing that most people lack.

The lawyer told the students that their biggest mentors were the people in the auditorium – their parents – and advised them to open their mind and look for mentors, some of whom will not necessarily look like them.

Wright said the single greatest thing he had in his career were two parents who gave him the confidence to believe in himself and drove him to the many activities that he wanted to be involved in.

“You have to open your mind and look for mentors, people who will help build you up, help support you and help push you to the next destination.”

He told them that they need to have concern, compassion and a sense of community as they not only have an opportunity but a responsibility to actually help others and to engage in the community.

 “It’s not about succeeding by oneself for oneself. It’s about what you can do to help others, to engage others, to lift up the broader community.”

Citing statistics about the first-year students at law school at the University of Toronto, whom he recently addressed, Wright said 59% of them have parents who were born outside of Canada.

One quarter of the students were born outside of Canada, 53% of them are women, one-third of the class is a visible minority or a person of colour, and 84% were the first in their family to attend law school.

“That’s incredible diversity so none of you should think that somehow this is out of reach, that this is not for you; you belong, and all of this is available to you.”

Wright told them that Canada is an incredibly diverse country but institutions haven’t evolved in perfect step with the diversification of the population.

“You’ve got a perfect opportunity to be at the forefront and you’ve got to prepare to be at the forefront to be moving things ahead, to be pushing boundaries.

He said sometimes people ask themselves when is the right time to begin thinking about leadership -- he thinks the time is now.

On the issue of barriers, Wright said he had never felt that being a black person affected his opportunities.

“The world of Toronto today is very different than the world of Toronto when my parents came to Canada from Jamaica in the 1960s so all of you should not be thinking about those things as barriers. The barriers are lack of confidence, lack of conviction, lack of purpose, lack of drive,” he said.

He told them that the Black community needs more of them as business people, as people with capital and controlling capital who “can sponsor incredible initiatives like this.”

“We need more of you in government where key decisions are being made, but this will only happen if each of you here today makes a decision to be part of it, to be at the table, to stand up and be counted as a citizen and as leader.”

He told them to aim to be leaders not just in the Black community but in the broader community. 

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 21-28, 2018.]

On Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, RBC and Leadership by Design (LBD) will collaborate on a free workshop on digital coding -- "Hacker Hipster or Hustler? Discover Your Tech Identity" -- for the students of the LLI's signature program. This will be held at RBC Waterpark Place Auditorium, 88 Queens Quay West in Toronto from 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

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