Scholarship Amount: $10,000
School: University of Toronto
Program: Commerce - Finance and Economics
I remember my brother’s call so vividly.
I was raised by a single mother who struggled with mental illness. She did everything in her power to be our champion but raising us on her own was not easy. We lived in a tough neighbourhood, received no support from our relatives and her mental health made it impossible for her to hold a job down. Meals often consisted of popcorn and water. We struggled for everyday survival and it was not going to become any easier without her. I was 16 and heartbroken when my brother informed me she was gone. The police found her body hanging in a local park on a cold winter morning; she had taken her own life. Although it would not have made her death more bearable, if my mother had life insurance it would have eased the horrible financial burden my brothers and I were left with at such a young age.
After her traumatic death, our days were spent trapped in a financial purgatory, her corpse in the morgue for weeks while I struggled to fund the funeral. Moreover, my brother took her death terribly, leaving me to support him financially. Her death was tragic; not only did I lose someone I cherished so deeply; I lost the opportunity to show her a better life. One of the last things she told me was, “Kwaze, things will get a lot worse before they get better.” These words continue to ring true.
Two years before starting university, I was left to fend for myself. Foster care provided limited support until 18. I spent the summer of 2017 employed by People Ready, a temp agency where you would show up to at 6:00am waiting for your daily work assignment. By summer’s end, I saved to rent a room near campus but needed to work two part-time jobs to simply keep up with expenses. The first year was brutal; I had to balance a full course load at Canada’s most demanding business program and 30+ hours of work each week. My peers lived for the weekend, while I worked like a dog. I’d work my Friday afternoon shift at my first job, go straight to my overnight shift at the next; only to return to my first job to serve breakfast at 7:00am and go back to the second job for another overnight that same day.
My reality sounds unbelievable; however, it wasn’t a choice. I don't have parents, so I don't have the safety net people so often take for granted. Recent OSAP cuts have added to my difficulties, as I still dedicate 30% of my income to support my siblings to this day.
Failure is simply not an option. I will graduate. I will pursue a career in finance.
Often, I look for signs that my mom is watching me. Maybe a bird in the sky, a gentle breeze that passes over me all signifying her presence and knowing pride and hope for success remains.