Stemming violence with girl power

York grad Natasha Burford (BAS ’00, BEd ’06) is the force behind a small non-profit [organization] in Jane-Finch called WORC IT – Women of Race Climbing It Together – wrote the Toronto Star July 24. Its main project is a 10-month “aspiring leaders” program for 13- to 17-year-old girls. It is equal parts girlie sleepovers and motherly heart-to-hearts, and includes leadership workshops on financial planning and public speaking, and enriching experiences. To graduate, all the girls have to lead workshops.

“I want them to have that sense of entitlement – that they could do anything they want,” says Burford, 34. “I want them to dream as high as possible, and then achieve that.”

The program is Burford’s small solution to the merry-go-round of violence many ride in her neighbourhood. She grew up in social housing, the middle child of two working immigrant parents. Both her siblings were arrested when they were kids, she says. She saw friends’ faces on the evening news. A boy she used to meet after school at Finch station was stabbed to death at the CNE.

What’s most amazing, perhaps, is her energy. When she started the program, Burford had one son. Now there are three – all under four years old – who she’s raising with her husband, a factory worker. She works two jobs – Grade 7 teacher by day, recreation coordinator by night.

To the girls, Burford is like an older sister – watching over them with both encouragement and a sharp word. Her expectations can make her “scary”, they say. “We realize she’s only doing this not because she cares about herself. It’s for us. She wants us to grow from these experiences,” says Enoruwa Osagie, 16.

Osagie is the program’s poster child. When she arrived at the first girls’ camp three summers ago, she wore a tie. She was anti-social and hated girls, who had bullied her at school. She rarely spoke. Three years later, she has led board meetings, organized a WORC IT winter festival and landed a job as a research intern in York’s School of Social Work in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

“It’s made me into a completely different person,” she says. “I wouldn’t even have handed in an application before. I’d have been too afraid to go out and indicate my interest.”

Mystery adviser: Hair today, gone tomorrow

In the quiet after a headline-grabbing proposal that the Iranian government dictate appropriate hairstyles for men, officials there say they haven’t taken the recommendations despite the efforts of a man who claims to have roots in Canada but is nowhere to be found, wrote The Globe and Mail July 24.

Afshin Nemati, who says he is based in Toronto, appeared on Iranian state television earlier this month to plug the idea of banning mullets and putting the kibosh on ponytails in the culturally conservative Middle Eastern country. The idea, brought forward by a group called the Veil and Modesty Festival, was met with much fanfare, became the butt of online jokes and appeared in newspapers all over the world. 

Nemati is the Middle East department manager for the Advertising & Marketing Association of Canada (AMACA), a company that has been conducting market research and creating brochures and advertising since 1998, according to its Web site.

A bio on the Web site says Nemati was president of AMACA Emerging Markets, where he steered the company in 25 countries.

It also says he holds a “doctor of business administration (DBA) degree from York University.” However, the University registrar has no record of an Afshin Nemati among its graduates for doctorate programs within the business school or elsewhere in the University, said York spokesperson Janice Walls.

Clement prepares to face the census music

Opposition MPs will get their first chance to grill Industry Minister Tony Clement on his role in the uproar over the census on Tuesday, wrote the Toronto Star July 24.

Clement will field questions during what promises to be a day of heated exchanges as the parliamentary panel examines the Harper government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census.

The witness list also includes…David Tanny, a professor of mathematics & statistics in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering.

The new language of politics

In a bid to reach out to ethnic voters, Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best’s election Web site has a message that can be translated into 16 languages at the click of a mouse, wrote the London Free Press July 26. But the translations are more symbolic than an effective communication device, considering they interpret only a few paragraphs for readers.

University Professor Emeritus Fred Fletcher, who specializes in political communication in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, said the multilingual message is a shrewd move. “We do know that people whose first language is neither English nor French are more likely to use the Internet because they want to keep in touch with their home countries.

“My guess is that the actual effect of the Web site will be not very much, but the symbolism of making information available in various languages will attract the attention of different cultural groups.”

DeCicco-Best’s message is an extension of a trend that started about 10 years ago with federal and provincial candidates buying ads in multicultural newspapers, Fletcher said. “To appear welcoming to ethnocultural groups is worthwhile, because it helps build a coalition.”

A producer wants to reconnect his province with its history

What do you get when you combine a sexy sports car, a disco dancing premier, a thumping 1970s soundtrack and a big dream that became the most famous boondoggle in New Brunswick political history? asked the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal July 24.

For Caleb Marshall (BFA Spec. Hons. ’01), it all makes one great show. “The show is about the dream,” he says.

The Bricklin: An Automotive Fantasy, a musical that is surely one of the most ambitious, controversial and downright fun projects Theatre New Brunswick (TNB) has ever tackled, makes its world premiere in the final weeks of this election season.

The show, co-produced by TNB and the Fredericton Playhouse, begins a three-week run on Tuesday. The timing couldn’t be better for Marshall, TNB’s new artistic producer, who is determined to make art that celebrates this province’s stories and run a theatre company that lives up to its name.

In the year that Marshall has been at the helm, the once-troubled company is now on stable financial ground and is redirecting its mission toward harnessing New Brunswick talent to tell the stories of the province.

At 36, Marshall is exactly where he wants to be, although a young man with his theatrical resumé could be anywhere in the world. He grew up with Theatre New Brunswick, first as a patron, then an usher and, years later, as an actor and assistant director. He studied at York University in Toronto, Middlesex University in London and the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts (GITIS) in Moscow. He also worked at the National Arts Centre, Stratford and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre before returning to Fredericton to take the job he admits that he dreamed of holding since he was a teenager.

Microsoft – still in the game

A Canadian financial analyst recently wrote that technology titan Microsoft Corp. is “well on its way to obsolescence…finished,” wrote Paul Barter, a course instructor in the Schulich School of Business at York University in the National Post July 24

His reasons were that Microsoft invests too much in R&D without enough to show for it and that its $30-billion cash on hand won’t last forever because it doesn’t understand the new technology world, dominated by the likes of Google Inc. and Apple Inc.

The analyst, Fabrice Taylor of Capital Ideas Research, even had the audacity to suggest cutting R&D at Microsoft and returning the money to shareholders. That sounds a lot like Michael Dell’s comments on Apple not long before the iPhone led to one of the great stock-price run-ups in history.

Reading this nonsense about Microsoft – and being a university lecturer on technology trends – I could only think of that great 19th-century technologist (and pretty decent writer) named Mark Twain, who quipped “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” after the New York Journal mistakenly published his obituary.

Flaherty and son see Blue Jays in Detroit as part of tradition

The tradition, as often happens, started as a one-off, wrote The Canadian Press July 24. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s son John, a big baseball fan, wanted to see Fenway Park, so he convinced his father to plan a trip there to watch the Toronto Blue Jays. They took in the sights, saw a few games and headed home.

Flaherty (JD ’73) is no fairweather fan. He was a student at Princeton when the Montreal Expos began play in 1969 and he would take in games at old Jarry Park when he was home to work in the summers. “We spent a lot of time in those days out in Jarry Park in the bleachers,” he said. “That was the place to go.”

He became a Blue Jays fan after graduating from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and was a season-ticket holder from the franchise’s first day in 1977.

On air

  • Anne Rochon Ford, co-director of the National Network on Environments & Women’s Health at York, spoke about a planned voluntary drug-testing program in Ontario, on Radio-Canada Toronto July 23. 
  • James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about Conrad Black’s bail hearing, on CP24-TV July 23.
  • York student Aaron Lauretani spoke about a class-action lawsuit against York University filed on behalf of students affected by last year’s strike, on Global TV News July 23.
  • Michael Riddell, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, spoke about his study of diabetic children and exercise, on Global TV July 23.
  • Marcel Martel, Avie Bennett Historica Chair in Canadian History in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about the history of the Spanish flu, on TFO’s “Panorama” July 23.