Portrait of hope unveiled in memory of Randal Dooley



Above: Portrait of Randal Dooley

It was a portrait of hope – a large painting of Randal Dooley unveiled in front of Vari Hall as 48 doves were released into the bright blue sky.

The painting, a gift to York University from Toronto artist and teacher Sara Sniderhan, was unveiled by two area high-school students who are receiving the first Randal Dooley Memorial Bursaries.

Randal Dooley died in 1998 at the age seven due to parental abuse. He had been in Canada less than a year after immigrating from Jamaica to be with his father and stepmother. His parents were found guilty of murder and jailed in 2002.

“Sara Sniderhan’s extraordinary portrait and the Randal Dooley award have a very special meaning for us here at York,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. “We are deeply grateful to community leaders, corporate partners and York’s neighbours in the Jane-Finch area for their devotion to preventing violence against children. This event is a message of hope that all of our children will have a fair chance in life.”

The painting will hang outside the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution in York Lanes. It shows a happy Randal surrounded by shadowy faces of other small children. A diagonal gash opens like a wound where it crosses his heart.

Sniderhan was haunted by Randal’s death and created the painting “in response to systems and people who failed to protect him. It’s a reminder that all of us have responsibility for children.”

The LaMarsh Centre is “the most fitting place,” Sniderhan told a gathering of university dignitaries and community fundraisers, including York Regional Police representatives, as well as reporters and photographers from CBC Radio, CTV, City-TV, the Toronto Star and other Toronto-area media. Also attending the event were York University Foundation Vice-President Jacline Nyman, and York Region Police Chief Armand La Barge, whose officers plan to raise money for the bursary at Canada Day festivities.

The centre recognizes that “the University has a role to play with its neighbours to prevent this kind of thing in our lives,” said Sniderhan. She thanked York for accepting the painting and “acting as a leader in the Greater Toronto community.”

Right: Artist Sara Sniderhan at podium, with Randal Dooley bursary recipients Tammy Nguyen, on left, and Suzanne Narain unveiling the portrait

A former schoolmate of Randal’s named Simone sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” in his honour. She sang with feeling, especially the refrain: “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?”

The unveiling coincided with the announcement that Tammy Nguyen and Suzanne Narain would be recipients of York University’s inaugural Randal Dooley Memorial Bursary. The fund supports an annual bursary for three students from the Jane-Finch community entering York’s Faculty of Arts. It was established through the York University Foundation in 2002 by members of the Jane-Finch community, the Jamaican Canadian Association and the Markham-African Caribbean Association, which raised $8,000 last year that was matched by Western Union.

Donors hope the fund will raise awareness about child abuse and the welfare of children in the community, while contributing to children’s development through education.

“The community raised it and the community will give it back,” said Susie Gotha, organizer of Toronto’s Roots & Culture Festival, which raises funds for the bursary.

Nguyen and Narain each received $2,000 from the bursary fund. Nguyen, 18, plays the piano for seniors at retirement homes and teaches piano to children at Oakwood Community Centre. Just finishing her OACs at Downsview Secondary School, she plans to study psychology at York next year. She hopes to work with children in the future.

Left: Susie Gotha, organizer of bursary fundraiser Roots & Culture Festival

Narain, also 18, is graduating from Westview Centennial Secondary School and plans to study humanities and social sciences at York. She was student council president, helped out at a retirement centre and tutored children at an elementary school.

York Faculty of Arts Dean Robert Drummond said the bursaries are the “good” that has come out of the extraordinarily disturbing death of Randal Dooley.

This year’s Roots & Culture Festival will be held on July 1 at the Finch West Plaza. Event organizers, in association with the City of Toronto, the Department of Canadian Heritage and Medallion Properties, hope to raise $20,000 for the Randal Dooley Memorial Bursary fund. The event will feature artists from the Caribbean, Africa, South Asia and Latin America.