Above and below: Marsha Barrow
No one was more surprised than Marsha Barrow (BA Hons. ’02, with a double major in political science and African studies) when she received a call from Pride News Magazine, a leading African-Canadian and Caribbean-Canadian publication, saying she’d been nominated for one of the magazine’s prestigious African Canadian Achievement Awards (ACAA).
It turned out that a colleague at Tropicana Community Services, a not-for-profit organization providing culturally appropriate social services for youth in the Caribbean and Black communities, had submitted Barrow’s name, unbeknownst to her.
When Barrow was told later that she’d won the award, it was icing on the cake. On Saturday, April 3, at the Leah Posluns Theatre in Toronto, she will receive the honour “for outstanding achievements and excellence for supporting youth in ther community.”
“I am very excited about this honour,” said Barrow, a 25-year-old project management coordinator with the Environmental Innovations branch of the Ministry of the Environment. “Based on the mandate of the ACAA, I really feel that awards like this are necessary, especially in light of the negative things we have been hearing recently about Toronto, particularly regarding the Black community. These are local people being celebrated by the ACAA; it’s such a positive event.
“I feel I have accomplished a lot so far, but I don’t think it’s anything extraordinary,” said Barrow about why she was nominated for the honour. “I’ve been taught not to compare myself to what others have done or are doing, but to do what I feel I need to do – to make and attain goals that are suitable for me. And I have lots more to accomplish!”
Barrow’s anything-but-ordinary work accomplishments include the following: teaching assistant with the Toronto Board of Education; legislative page with the Ontario Legislature; and special assistant to MPP Alvin Curling and MPP Sandra Pupatello.
As a volunteer, Barrow has been a math, reading and homework tutor; mentored youth with Tropicana Community Services and worked through the organization as a language and a math teacher; written articles for the Toronto Star on the future of Caribana; acted as a mentor and organizer with Each One Teach One (sister organization to Tropicana Community Services); and been a spokesperson for the Toronto Lung Association.
“A lot of people feel as though they don’t have the time to volunteer,” said Barrow. “But you make time for things that you feel are important to you. And giving back to the community and particularly youth, is the one thing that I deem important.”
Barrow said her motivation comes from her religious beliefs and her family. Her mother is from Trinidad, “and I realize that my generation is the largest of West Indian parentage in Canada to date. We should take advantage of the opportunities offered to us by our parents, who came to Canada for a better life, and who established a foundation for us to progress, and to achieve greater things. “
Barrow is proud of her family, as they are of her. All of them will be out on April 3, to see her accorded the ACAA youth achievement honour, which is one of several to be given to a variety of people that evening in several categories, including Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the American prizefighting boxer imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit; and Mike “Pinball” Clemons, high-flying football player and now coach of the Toronto Argonauts.
A number of Barrow’s professors are also excited for her, including social science Professor Pablo Idahosa, coordinator of African Studies. “Marsha was a treat as a student, always asking probing questions, and always giving insightful answers. One would always have to pause to answer her questions, as they always managed to touch on issues that one had not thought of or approach the topic in an insightfully original, different way,” said Idahosa.
Left: Pablo Idahosa
“She was also one of the most engagingly helpful and selfless students I have ever come across at York – toward students, for the program and to high school students from outside who came to visit from time to time. If there was someone who would volunteer for something, it would be Marsha. When I stood on stage to at her graduation, and saw her, and her proud parents, it was one of the most gratifying experiences I have had at York,” added Idahosa. “So, when I heard that she was about to be honoured, well, I was not surprised but I was equally swelling with satisfaction – not that I had one thing to do with it! She is clearly one of the best examples of what our community and York has to offer.”
With her family’s love of discussing current events and social issues as background, Barrow’s dream is to enter politics one day. “My family would be extremely proud of that accomplishment,” she said, adding that winning the ACAA award has helped give her the confidence to make her dream a reality. In the short term, she hopes to earn a master’s degree in African Canadian studies in York’s Department of History.
More about the ACAA
The ACAA event, established in June 1985 and organized by Pride News Magazine, has evolved into one of the most-anticipated and prestigious happenings in the African-Canadian community. It celebrates the achievements of African Canadians, and pays tribute to the exemplary contributions they have made to their community and to the wider Canadian society. These celebrations have had the cumulative effect of fostering a sense of pride and a spirit of dignity within the African Canadian community. The ACAA has also acted as a catalyst, inspiring many youth, and some adults, to pursue and attain success and excellence in their lives.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien once described the ACAA as a gala which “provides a wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to exemplary members of your community, while at the same time fostering a sense of pride in the unique heritage which is the focus of Black History Month…. The recipients will undoubtedly inspire countless young people in the accomplishment of their goals.”