Sitting on a bench surrounded by the greenery of Applewood Hills Park in Mississauga, we were joined by Shelly-Ann’s sister, Kerry-Ann, for this interview. The sisters painted a vivid picture of growing up in Jamaica for me. In search of a better life, their family immigrated to Canada with the help of an uncle in Montreal. This uncle had previously come to Canada as part of an agreement between Commonwealth nations. The sisters’ integration to life in Toronto was not difficult. They did not even need to learn a new language. They do remember their childhood in Jamaica fondly, where they attended Catholic School and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Their mother was of Indian descent and their grandmother was a practising Hindu.
Both women retain clear memories of the characteristics unique to their native land, which achieved independence in 1962. Today, the multicultural makeup of Toronto means many of the things you would find in Jamaica are available here. Things like jerk chicken, Jamaican patties, plantain chips and rum! Jamaica has also had a huge influence on rappers, singers and reggae musicians like Tory Lanez, Kardinal Offishall and many reggae DJs. Jamaican Creole or Patois, an English-based language with West African influences, is even being taught at York University.
With a background in science, Shelly-Ann, who arrived in Canada in 1992 at the age of 17, is an epidemiologist. She worked as a public health specialist for the government of Ontario's healthcare network. Following her graduate studies, she completed an internship in infectious diseases in Nigeria and is now a doctoral candidate at Lancaster University (England). As a mother, protecting socio-democratic policies is something she cares about deeply. For her, this means fighting for social justice, the respect of cultural and linguistic minorities, economic security and access to public education. She maintains that quality healthcare and education are the core conditions which reduce the disparities between rich and poor. To achieve this, parents must get involved in academic affairs and in improving academic curricula. For Shelly-Ann, promoting cultural diversity and its benefits lies at the heart of our success as a society. In fact, as a specialist in health policies, she believes recommendations resulting from dialogue between parents and school administrations must permeate all academic spheres right up to administrative decision-makers. Representation of ethnic groups among teachers and in the political world is also crucial, in her deeply held opinion.
Despite the statistics on violence in black communities in Toronto, the city remains a microcosm of global cultural diversity, where there is a real feeling of safety. As Shelly-Ann states, the GTA stands out for its quality of life and the fact that you can enjoy green spaces less than an hour away. In summer, the city is bursting with life, and she loves attending the multicultural festivals.