Ken Jeffers inspires students to be proud of their heritage

By Omar MoslehSTAFF WRITER(*EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally ran in the December 2009 issue of the York West Advocate and has been posted in honour of Black History Month*)For many, 13 is an unlucky number. But for Ken Jeffers, it marks the age when he discovered his calling.Jeffers first got involved in fighting for civil rights as a teenager. Living in Trinidad and attending Queen’s Royal College, he was an avid member of the school’s cricket team.When one of his friends was kicked off the team for looking “scruffy” – thisfriend was not well off and couldn’t afford new clothes – Jeffers managed to get his classmates to boycott the team until the coach changed his mind and reinstated him.“That got me my first introduction on how to change things,” he said. “I have areal strong sense of fairness. I’m very disturbed when I see people getting treated unfairly, or taken advantage of.”Jeffers has spent the better part of his life battling racial inequality. In 1968, he took part in a racial segregation protest that resulted in the killings of three students by police in the Orangeburg Massacre in South Carolina. And in 1992,during the Yonge Street riots following the Rodney King acquittal, he helped calm the angry African youth.Today, Jeffers serves as manager of access and diversity for the City of Toronto.He chairs numerous committees and leads countless initiatives to promoteequality, such as setting up the the Harriet Tubman Institute, a facility that researches the migration of African people.Jeffers has also worked as a teacher and youth worker. He recently visited Conflict Mediation Services of Downsview to discuss the strategies he uses to curb youth violence.According to Jeffers, many youth in marginalized communities engage in gang warfare because they do not value their lives. He says young people – especially from minority backgrounds – are not raised in a way that fosters appreciation for their heritage.“Institutions are not structured to teach children how to love themselves,” he said. “None of the solutions are based on race or heritage, but the problems are.”To combat these problems, Jeffers encourages his students to appreciate theircultural history and be proud of who they are. By empowering youth, he teaches them to value their own lives and those of their peers.“Because institutions don’t want to acknowledge and manage something they don’t know about, they leave it alone. The success of the program I designed, for a black, Latino, Muslim, any child, is based on pride… They have to be inspired."