BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
A woman of many talents, Sandra Whiting was born in Jamaica, blessed to be raised by loving and supportive parents. Her father was a man who believed above all else, that his daughters could do anything that they set their minds to and he raised all his children to understand the value of giving back, instilling a volunteer’s spirit within Sandra that she has carried throughout her life.
Her mother was a storyteller, teaching Sandra how to read at four years old. Her father impressed upon her and her siblings the importance of reading, gaining insight and knowledge through the words they received, to warrant an understanding of the current happenings of the world. Partaking in regular group discussions around the kitchen table became a habit and Sandra recalls how it was always a noisy event competing with her siblings to make sure her opinion was heard.
Her father always demanded that they “Make their point!” during every discussion and was always taken with Sandra’s ability to argue her case like a lawyer defending her client on trial.
Sandra attended St. Hugh’s High School for Girls in Kingston, Jamaica. She never really considered herself an academic, but always made high marks in the subjects that she enjoyed. Sandra was motivated in organizing extracurricular activities and clubs at school. She spent much of those years rallying people together to volunteer at the local hospital or helping children who lived in the impoverished areas of downtown Kingston.
Although she doesn’t consider herself an academic, Sandra shares that she has a ‘common sense’ zeal for life. She has never completed any formal studies but prides herself on being a voracious reader having read over 400 books alone in the last year. Over the years, she has gained most of her knowledge from the books she enjoys reading and courses that she has taken here and there.
Sandra immigrated to Canada in the early 70’s searching for a new adventure. After visiting one summer on vacation she decided that this was the place her heart would lead. She invited a friend to embark on this new experience, excited at the new opportunities it would present. It was a culture shock for her, especially moving somewhere cold and although she was homesick, one of the best decisions that she ever made was settling here in Toronto.
“I am who I am because of where I was born and the principals and the society made me who I was, strong, confident and believing I could do anything and be anything I wanted to be,” says Sandra.
Sandra has accumulated quite the repertoire of work over the course of her career, always looking for something new and different, an exciting adventure to stimulate her mind. She has worked as a TV host, storyteller, newspaper columnist, cultural programmer, animator, event planner and entrepreneur. There were many times she had no idea or experience to complete a job before her, but she tackled every assigned challenge with a smile. Sandra utilized the skills that she had, learning things along the way taking charge of many projects at Caribbean community organizations across the city. Many festivals and organizations would not be what they are today if not for Sandra’s exceptional organizational skills and her ability to rally people together to get the job done.
Those many years of her life have left Sandra feeling lucky to have met the people she has when she was looking for a change. “I’ve always just said yes, regardless if I know how to do something or not my answer is yes, and I’ll figure out the rest later.”
Looking towards the future, Sandra hopes to get back to her storytelling roots, focusing on speaking, sharing her many stories and hosting community events that she loves so much. In this new chapter, Sandra wants to speak about her passion for volunteerism. “I believe fundamentally that we must give back, it is critical and part of who I am,” says Sandra. “We can’t only ever think about ourselves there is a lot to do and we as a greater community must do what we can to give back.”
As an unconventional speaker who delivers her message through the power of storytelling, Sandra’s stories are a reflection of her own lived experiences, stories of challenge, adversity, fear, courage, confidence and her light-hearted humour where her personality shines through.
Her message to the bright young women of tomorrow is to remember, “You are important and valuable; if you have something to contribute don’t be afraid to speak up, go get as much education as possible for you to accomplish all that you want, have fun doing it and take extra care to choose your partner in life wisely never let anyone bring you down.”