Toronto Argonauts player denounces violence, urges action at youth forum

If young people feel like they belong somewhere, they are less likely to become involved with guns and gangs.  

That’s the message that football player Eric England of the Toronto Argonauts will be delivering to 250 people – high school students, teachers, business and community leaders — at York University tomorrow for a youth forum and teacher workshop.

Right: Toronto Argonaut Eric England

“People get into gangs because that’s the only place that feels like family,” says England , who grew up in a single-parent home in a tough neighbourhood in Texas . “But if we can make them feel less alienated and more welcome in our bigger family, they won’t want to be in a gang. Then they can make a decision to want something better for themselves.”

England ’s talk on the Stop the Violence Campaign, being led by the Argos and the City of Toronto , will speak to high-school students from across the GTA on Thursday, February 16 at noon in The Underground Restaurant in York’s Student Centre. His talk is part of a one-day youth forum, Sustainable Communities: Linking Education to Action, aimed at motivating young people to make a difference in their school or community through social, health, and environmental initiatives.  

“We are all deeply concerned about violence in our community, and the recent shooting death of York University student Chantel Dunn brings it very close to home,” says Robert Tiffin, vice-president students. “The goal of this forum is to inspire young people to take positive action to make a difference in their communities, in a wide variety of ways.”

Speakers and workshops will take place from 8:30am to 4:30pm, mainly in Vari Hall A. The opening session, “Motivating Action” will be led by John Havercroft, superintendent of education for the York Region District School Board. Keynote speakers are: Peter Love, chief energy conservation officer at the Ontario Power Authority, who will discuss what young people can do to create an energy conservation culture in Ontario; and Ally Carlson, a Grade 12 student at Whitby’s Anderson Collegiate, an active participant in the United Nations program Culture of Peace, who will talk about how youth can get involved in their schools.

Forum organizer Elaine Rubinoff of Learning for a Sustainable Future, a not-for-profit organization at York University, says the 28 similar youth forums held across Canada over the past six years prove that young people are part of the solution. After the forums, students have developed a range of projects to improve their school or communities. They include: mentoring programs for elementary students, car pool and anti-idling programs for vehicles, healthy food choice programs in school cafeterias, recycling and tree planting initiatives.

“If kids are given the tools, knowledge and skills to make a difference, they will,” says Rubinoff. “They are true leaders.” 

The youth forum coincides with the United Nations Decade for Education for Sustainable Development, as well as the York Region District School Board’s Character Matters Program. Organizers of the forum are: Learning for a Sustainable Future, a strategic alliance of the Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS) at York University; York Region District School Board, Don Valley West One Tonne Challenge, and Environment Canada. For more information, visit .