York to the Power of 50: Launch of the Jean Augustine Chair

The Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment was launched on June 25 at the Technology Enhanced Learning Building on York University’s Keele Campus.

Named after Jean Augustine, the first black woman elected to the Canadian Parliament, the Chair will study social justice and equity issues in the urban environment that shape student academic success. It also aims to enrich research and academic activities involving urban communities in areas such as educational policy and practice. In addition, by preparing teachers to deal with urban educational challenges, the Chair will have an exponential impact on the future of education.

Nearly 200 supporters gathered at the launch to honour the dedication of Augustine and York University to urban education while students from the University’s neighbouring schools, including Firgrove Public School, Oakdale Park Middle School and Derrydown Public School, got the crowd dancing to the beat of steel pans and African drums.

Left: Students from Firgrove Public School present Jean Augustine with flowers

“The creation of a Chair is an important event in the life of a university,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “Chairs are fundamental creators of knowledge and, as such, have enormous influence and benefit to all of us.”

The Jean Augustine Chair, which will also look at educational issues involving immigration, community engagement and cultural diversity, will make a vital contribution to the preparation of Canada’s next generation of teachers, academic leaders and researchers working to improve schooling in metropolitan cities. “York is uniquely positioned to lead in this area with our research strengths in the social sciences and humanities, with our strong ties to the communities we serve, and with our commitment to social justice,” said Shoukri.

York has committed $1 million toward the new Chair, while the remaining $2 million will come from external donors. Volunteers from around the community, with the help of York University Foundation, have raised more than $400,000 to date.

During the event, Shoukri recognized two benefactors, Denham Jolly, director, Milestone Radio Inc. and president and CEO of Flow 93.5 FM for his $50,000 gift, and Alex MacGregor, president and dean of faculty at the Toronto Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology for his donation of $100,000. “Donating should be something that comes naturally for all people,” said MacGregor. “I passionately believe that our future is more important than our present and though our present is not perfect, if we continue to invest in it, our future generations will lead us into a better life.”

Left: Denham Jolly addresses the crowd about the importance of the Jean Augustine Chair

Additionally, on the day of the event, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced that it has become a benefactor of the new research Chair, with a donation of $100,000. “We are honoured to be part of such an illustrious undertaking, which has focused on benefiting student learning,” said David Clegg, president of the ETFO. “The research focus will ensure that all children, even in complex and challenging urban environments, can achieve their full potential.” Adding another surprise to the day’s event was David Singh, chairman and CEO of the Destiny Group of Companies, who stepped forward during the event with a commitment of $50,000.

Right: From left, Michael Ignatieff, member of parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and deputy leader of the Federal Liberal Party, Jean Augustine and David Singh celebrate the launch of the Chair

“Let me do my happy dance,” said Augustine as she thanked her generous supporters and York for taking the lead on such an important issue. “There is so much bad news happening out there today as we pick up the paper and watch TV. But this is really good news; this is a good news story.”

Aside from the creation of the Chair, York is involved in other community initiatives. After congratulating Augustine and her supporters for their achievement, Paul Axelrod, then outgoing dean of the Faculty of Education, revealed a new initiative between York and its surrounding community. The Faculty just signed a three-year agreement with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to improve the performance of marginalized students in four area schools by focusing the curriculum on their particular interest and needs.

Left: From left, Alex MacGregor, Mamdouh Shoukri, Jean Augustine and Paul Marcus, president & CEO of the York University Foundation 

“The Faculty and this University are exciting and creative places to be,” said Axelrod. “We not only talk the language of access, opportunity and social justice, but we teach, conduct research and implement the programs needed to realize these ideals.”

Programs such as the collaboration with the TDSB exemplify the reasons this Chair is so important and demonstrate York’s leadership in bringing community outreach programs to new heights. The University’s existing outreach programs encourage teacher candidates to incorporate culturally relevant teaching into their classrooms; encourage postsecondary education in the Jane/Finch area; provide free legal counsel to low-income community members; and assist mature immigrant women entering the workforce.

Augustine’s record of public service is marked by a strong commitment to equity and social justice. She has worked with York numerous times on community outreach, including serving on the Board of Governors when York founded the Westview Partnership, an initiative between York and the TDSB that improves access to the University for students living in the surrounding neighbourhood. She is also a former educator and principal in the Jane/Finch area. Her efforts prompted thanks from Paul Marcus, president and CEO of the York University Foundation. “There is a proverb that says: ‘Success and rest do not sleep well together’ – and I think Jean Augustine is the prime example of that,” he said.  

Right: From left, Lisa Gleva, principal gifts officer, York University Foundation, Jean Augustine and Paul Axelrod

The launch came to a close with two dances performed by students from Topcliff Public School followed by a presentation of flowers to Augustine from the children. The event was also attended by the Consuls General of Saint Lucia, South Africa, Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Switzerland and Guyana. 

Donations to the Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment support York to the Power of 50, the largest fundraising campaign in York’s history. For more information or to donate, contact York University Foundation at 416-650-8210 or e-mail contact@yorkfoundation.yorku.ca.