BY: GLORIA MUGENYI
It’s often said that “children are the future,” but what does that future entail if they’re not steered in the right direction; especially for those living in under-sourced communities with just a little bit to get by?
How does one ensure that those children to have the same opportunities to flourish as those living in more financially stable homes? You create a space for those children to give them a chance and show them that they too have the potential to be better and do well for themselves if they take advantage of the resources afforded to them.
Cue in Devon Jones, an educator and founder of Y.A.A.A.C.E, who has done exactly that. Jones founded the “Youth Association for Academics, Athletics and Character Education,” the organization is known by its acronym Y.A.A.A.C.E bringing both education and sports together to fully maximize the potential of each and every child that’s a part of the Y.A.A.A.C.E family.
“ Y.A.A.A.C.E is a community organization that seeks to engage children and youth from all communities, particularly those from poor racialized communities in activities that promote opportunity, civic/social inclusion, identity development, resilience, accountability, and self-advocacy.”
In 2007, Jones started the Y.A.A.A.C.E program. According to Jones, he started the program with the children living in the Jane-Finch area in mind; children living in other words, marginalized neighbourhoods.
“The idea was to put an infrastructure in place to provide these kids with access to things they wouldn’t normally have as well as academics.”
When Jones taught at Brookview Middle School in Toronto’s Jane-Finch area, he witnessed some of his students travelling as long as two hours to access sports. Given the reputation of the Jane-finch area in terms of crime, Jones thought that something needed to be done.
“I thought to myself, that is crazy and it reminded me of myself when I was growing up without much… if we are going to expect these young people not to be compromised by their environment in which they grew up, we had to do better” says Jones.
Those who already know about Y.A.A.A.C.E will often associate it with basketball as it’s one of the organization’s well-known programs, but Jones, the director of the organization will be the first to tell you that they’re not only basketball. but a well-rounded organization that helps children achieve their full potential by making certain that education is a priority for each and every child in the program.
“The perception is that we’re this massive sports entity, yes that’s what we’re known for and we have a few kids from Y.A.A.A.C.E who might be in the NBA draft this year. We have a number of kids who are high achievers on the court but that’s not all,” says Jones
According to Jones, Y.A.A.A.C.E’S platform and vision are more to advocate for children that are usually over-looked by helping them have a chance at life and become better individuals.
“We have about twenty post-graduates who are school teachers, we have several others who are in grad school,” says Jones.
In the few years that Y.A.A.A.C.E has been around, Jones has managed to get big name individuals to see and believe in his vision and partner with him to create even more opportunities for these racialized children.
Jones partnered with Michael “Pinball” Clemons, former CFL player with the Toronto Argonauts and founder of the Michael “Pinball” Clemons Foundation (MPCF) and together they launched a year-round comprehensive baseball program “Baby Jays” which was designed for children and youth from under-resourced communities or students deemed ‘at risk’.
In 2018, this program will be known as “Project 42” which is said to be an initiative with a mandate of introducing high-performance baseball to racialized children and youth, promoting and adding diversity to the sport.
Y.A.A.A.C.E has also partnered with The Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (APMA) to provide racialized youth (ages 18 to 25) from under-resourced communities access to the skilled trade, in particular, machine, tool, die and mold (MTDM).
The program provides youth with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with local employers in the machine, tool, die & mold (MTDM) industry and receive a weekly stipend while they are training. These youths also have the opportunity to further their education at a post-secondary institution once they complete their twelve months apprenticeship start their careers.
Y.A.A.A.C.E also partnered with the Vision of Science Network for Learning Inc. (VoSNL) is a charitable organization that aims to advance the educational achievements and career aspirations of youth from low-income and marginalized communities through meaningful engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and research.
Many high profile individuals speak very highly of Jones, and he has in fact been referred to as ”the Godfather” to these children. From Karl Subban a former principal for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to Michael “Pinball” Clemons and Michael Coteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services.
“Mr. Jones is a real hero who’s making a real tangible difference and making an impact in his community,” said Michael “Pinball” Clemons.
Many parents that are a part of the program also speak very highly of not only Jones but also what the program has done for their children.
“Y.A.A.A.C.E has opened up a lot of opportunities for my child to build up his confidence and get to know his community very well. Y.A.A.A.C.E has shown my child that he can achieve his dreams through education, dedication, and discipline,” said Dianne Escobar, parent of a fourth grader who is apart of the Y.A.A.A.C.E family.
The Y.A.A.A.C.E program has also brought in a few big names like Karl Subban, Michael “Pinball” Clemons and Michael Coteau to speak to their students about the opportunities and life in general and to show them their support.
Jones has emphasized that creating opportunities and accommodations for these kids involves everyone from teachers, to coaches to parents and the community at large.
Y.A.A.A.C.E’s programs are all-year-round which helps to keep children on the right track on a consistent basis.
Since 2007, Y.A.A.A.C.E has had more than 500 youths be a part of their program. In October 2016, Jones was awarded the “Teacher of the Year” award recognizing his work in the community and dedication to the youth in Toronto.
For those who are looking to be a part of Y.A.A.A.C.E you can contact them at yaaace.com and all their social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at Yaaace_si