Could Marcia Brown be one of Toronto’s best role models for youth?
We say yes! Her non-profit, Trust 15, provides mentorship to youth in Rexdale
BY LISA VAN DE GEYN
When was the last time you had tea with a Trudeau? If you’re like most of us, your answer is probably, “never.” But ask a bunch of kids from Rexdale and North Etobicoke, and they’d be able to say, “in 2016!” That’s thanks to Marcia Brown, the founder and executive director of Trust 15, a non-profit aimed at providing mentorship for inner-city youth.
Over high tea on the University of Ottawa campus, Grégoire Trudeau engaged with the kids, asking and answering questions. She said, ‘Whatever your age, whatever your religion, whatever your background, wherever your family comes from—there is a perfect little creature inside of you who is patient, who is kind, who is loving and who deserves unconditional love,’ Brown recalls. She says Grégoire Trudeau’s words clearly left a mark on the kids.
Brown has made it her life’s mission to provide mentorship opportunities to kids in Rexdale, where she lives. When she began her career as a special-needs and educational assistant with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Brown says she became a “consummate activist and enabler, an agent of change, a resilient and unstoppable advocate for students who came to school with little going for them.”
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For example, when she noticed the absence of Black parents at her school’s parent-teacher interviews, she went door-to-door to find out why. “Some parents were just not engaged; some had bad experiences at previous school meetings; some were simply overwhelmed,” she says. “I worked on the interview process with them, and even accompanied some to their next parent-teacher night. Where parents were disengaged and disinterested, I inserted myself with a hands-on approach to break down barriers and empowered them to participate.” Her approach got parents and kids excited about participating.
When her efforts were recognized by the school board, she started working on other programs, like Young Women on the Move, a TDSB mentorship initiative for girls in grades 3 to 12, and Girls on the Move, a TDSB summer program for girls ages 12 and 13. But helping kids during school hours and in the summer wasn’t enough. “I saw a significant need for the youth in my community to receive support that expanded beyond the classroom, so I established an after-school program to educate and inspire young women,” she says.
Armed with 250 photocopied fliers that simply read “Girls Group,” Brown canvassed Rexdale looking to recruit for her new after-school program, which would take place at a community church. “On the first day, 15 girls walked through the door. We had a powerful conversation. A change started to happen in those three hours, and the girls came back week after week,” she says. By the fifth month, the program had grown to 45 girls. Two years later, the Trust 15 Youth Community Support Organization, which is named for those first 15 members, was born.
Today, Brown says, Trust 15 provides a safe, nurturing space for 200 girls and boys, aged seven to 18, during the school year, and 80 kids throughout the summer. Meetings are used to chat about family life, and to find solutions for some of the issues the kids are facing, like conflict, peer pressure, abuse and violence. The group’s four programs – Ladies on the Rise, Girls on the Rise, Men of Distinction and Boys of Excellence – focus on connecting youth with professionals, mentors and community leaders who offer tips to help young people maximize their potential.
The organization also provides support to parents who don’t know where else to turn for help. “Parents talk about the program and say they are seeing a change of attitude [in their kids],” Brown says. “They tell me, ‘I see a difference in his grades,’ and ‘my child is coming home and talking to me,’ and even ‘life at home is much better since my daughter joined your program.’”
Brown says she’s helped hundreds of young people learn leadership skills, healthy self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth. Her work and many accolades (let’s just say the “awards” section of her resume is long), are shining a positive light on priority neighbourhoods that often suffer from negative attention.
“I’ve seen hope again in the life of children and their families. When these youth are in their communities they will be effective members of society; maybe even leaders.”
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