REV SKY STARR - ROLE MODEL & AMBASSADOR
GRIEF THERAPIST / TRAUMA SPECIALIST / EDUCATOR / CONSULTANT
Officially Inducted into the “National Wall of Role Models” on June 7, 2014 ( See full list www.BlackCanadianAwards.com )
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Caribbean Spice Island roots from Grenada are entrenched in my psyche. I relish the formative years of neighbourly living coupled with communal inclusivity. Being an avid extrovert, I participated in most of our community events in my youth, excelling in academics with a teaching or nursing career as ideal aspirations. With a deep-rooted childhood faith that blossomed to a high level of spirituality, I’ve been blessed with six life-changing careers which all interweave. I currently multitask as a Minister, Therapist, Executive Director, Entrepreneur, Community Advocate and Educator/Consultant, with a nineteen (19) year experience in Nursing and continuous teaching which informs each position. Experiential knowledge has enhanced my past and present vocational choices.
Most of the ethical philosophy which guides my daily routine is attributed to my paternal grandmother, Ma, who was an advocate on varying levels. There was always a deep love and respect for self and others which guided her caring, sharing and commitment to family, neighbours and community. She always reminded me to, “say what you mean and mean what you say.” Because, she’d say, “what you do is so loud; others won’t hear what you say.”
She demonstrated how to listen to others and help when or where we can; She schooled me in the art of truly caring about others as I cared for myself, but what stuck above all else was the willingness to become active when it served the greater good. I often find myself quoting some of her sayings, such as, “if something is right, or wrong, stand tall and say something about it.” Advocacy at its best!
School was a place of holistic growth. Tough lessons such as taking pride in oneself were taught by teachers – male and female - who sincerely cared about students’ well-being on every level. These committed scholars, whom I remember with fondness, taught me how to develop an inquisitive quest for knowledge. Over time, my need-to-know developed into an engaged “book-swapping” with friends, teachers and anyone who had information that was pertinent to me at the time. Words and books became my best friends and have fulfilled my cravings for personal excellence and intellectual growth.
My best subject was English grammar and literature. St. John’s Christian College refined my higher learning, by assisting in crafting and nurturing what became my life’s philosophy. After reading Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish” published in 1858, I adopted and modified the notable quote: “if you want a thing to be well done, you must [be actively engaged in it yourself], you must not [always] leave it to others.”
I savoured reading, writing poems and short stories, enjoyed swimming, singing in church and community choirs, dressing in girl guides and St. John’s Ambulance uniforms, but prided myself in being one of the best netball centres in our nation. I felt at my best when I was active.
My Grenadian teaching career lasted for two and a half years where I not only modeled what I’d garnered from prominent teachers, but also blended personal knowledge to customize and brand my teaching style. The most exhilarating experience in life for me is recognizing eager learners and being able to contribute in some small way.
My 2nd Career: Migrating to Canada in 1972, Montreal became my initial home and Toronto my secondary as I became immersed and fascinated with diversity in my beloved Jane/Finch community. I opted to pursue a nursing career, as my research in teaching here unearthed a vastly different style than the British education system which still informs and guides my brand of education.
Specializing in this caring profession honed a deep desire to serve and brought the realization that I was truly ‘a people person’ to the core. Although I need technology to function in our fast-paced society, I’m at my peak when dealing and interacting with people. Nursing created the platform where socialization, diversity and human need blended together in a unique tapestry of acquired learning. Such educational process has transformed my thinking, making me proficient in the occupational roles that I now embrace
Re-entry to a classroom as a mature student brought a wave of anxieties as I juggled work, family, pastoring and school. I give praise that I was blessed with a supportive husband, two sons and a congregation whose love, concern and tolerance helped me endure and succeed a 6-year stretch of gruelling studies at Tyndale University and Seminary where I acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and a Master of Divinity with Counselling as a major. Life has a way of propelling us to our destined roles once we’re ready and willing to be directed.
Despite the stressors that accompanied such a daunting task and the wish that it would have been better accomplished in earlier years, life experience played a major role in my success as a mature student. Here’s where teaching, nursing and lived experience brought selective choices and uniformity to that overall experience. I now bask in the sense of accomplishment that can only be attributed to the inner circle of support received as I endeavoured one step at a time.
My 3rd 4th 5th and other Careers: Opening a private practice was the obvious choice for me and providence made it possible in quick succession. Yet, the tug to help in my community kept drawing me into schools, community centres and wherever there was a need. I became a first responder to crisis, providing education, support and social connections to youth, families and the community in general, particularly to those affected by gun-violence.
The year of the gun (2005) defined youth and family need for specialized care and our not-for-profit organization, ‘Out Of Bounds: Grief Support’ became a reality first as clustered groups and formally as a community name. We officially launched in 2007 and have gained recognition as a trusted organization providing trans-cultural, non-denomination care to anyone in need. www.outofboundsjf.org We were humbled and honoured to be recognized by CBC as a Champion of Change in 2010 and a recipient of the Queen Diamond Jubilee Award in 2012.
As Founder and Executive Director, I create programs, train youth, residents and professionals to respond to crisis and support those in need, using a peer-to-peer mutual support model. I’m also one of the co-founders of the Crisis Support Network in Jane/Finch and one of the present co-chairs.
Fathers Across Cultures became our first Subsidiary Program, birthed after recognizing the need for male role models for young men, whose frustrations and anger perpetuated the cycle of violence. www.fathersac.org
Our second Subsidiary program, ‘Forgotten Mothers’ provides a safe space, education, care and “buddy-system” for mothers who have lost a child/children to gun violence or any type of death. Most recently, one of the mothers I trained has found meaning in her quest to fight gun violence.
These programs are now becoming academic models which will hopefully be taught in colleges and universities. With an ongoing therapeutic practice, a community church, a non-profit organization, family and community who needs my support, I’m grateful for those demanding years of learning that equipped me for these services. I continue to be schooled by those I serve as they demonstrate resilience and perseverance in the midst of pain and trauma which they endure on a continuous basis.
What many people may not know about you?
I love and enjoy singing and would have loved to become an actress or singer. I sang a lot in church and dreamed of creating a record (back then). One never knows when opportunity will knock so I haven’t entirely ruled that out and still plan to create a cd if given the opportunity.
Secondly, from my early teens I’ve always delighted in sitting with, listening to and being in the company of those who are much older than me. History, experiential knowledge and wisdom spills from simple conversing that intrigues and fascinates me. My grandmother was my initial inspiratory.
What's your inspiration and how do you get motivated?
Faith is my foundational base for life and serves as an inspiring motivator for my well-being on every level. I firmly believe that our spirituality informs, sustains and propels us to not only be better human beings but better neighbours. There’s a bank of universal knowledge that’s readily available and I tap in for inspiration, revelation and motivation. Jay, my husband of 22 years and I do a brisk hour-long prayer-walk at dawn each day, followed by a bit of exercise and meditation which does wonders for my holistic wellness and balance. I’m also an ardent reader. An inspirational story, historic accounts, lives of visionary leaders and good poems are great motivators. They provide insights and sayings which instill encouragement, inspiration and hope that are fundamental to my functioning first as a minister, cascading into my other roles.
How did you get to where you are now and what more should we expect?
We’re all blessed with strong qualities and the innate ability to survive. Reminiscing on some hardships in life, I consider myself a survivor and recognize perseverance as one of my inner virtues.
At age twelve I felt very strongly that I’ll be doing the work I’m doing right now. There are times when I received distinct directions from the Spirit who works through my inner voice, directing me to people and situations that take me to different levels of growth and opportunities. I’ve often found myself in very difficult situations when I chose to do otherwise and have learned that paying attention to those promptings have brought me to this place of feeling confident that I’m where I need to be right now, doing exactly what I was created to do.
Finding your purpose in life and being steadfast in the pursuit of excellence eventually pays off once a vocation has been decided on. Doing one’s best involves unwavering dedication and determination. I give praise that I’ve learned those two traits which helped in the recognition and the accomplishments achieved thus far. Looking ahead, I muse on and have already initiated processes to become a published author, sharing the knowledge and experience I’ve gathered with the hope that others will be encouraged and blessed to become resilient on life’s journey.
What would you like to be remembered for?
It would be humbling to be remembered as a strong woman of faith, integrity and compassion. But I’d love to have others remember and model my commitment to youth, families and community. Overall, I’d love to be remembered… For the lives I’ve touched; For the people helped; For the wisdom gained and shared; For the laughter initiated; For the love given; For the affection showed; For the good role model I demonstrated and… For the community/ies inspired. Now, that would also be humbling.
How do you balance work, family, friends and leisure?
Although it becomes very hectic at times, I feel super blessed that God has made me an extrovert who loves people, so I’m at my best when I’m busy. Loving what I do as minister, mother, wife, therapist, friend and community advocate – in that order - makes it less challenging at times, but I’ve found that the key is putting spirituality first. When we give God His time, it’s pleasantly surprising how everything else falls neatly in place. There are instances when time seems to stand still, or moves in nanoseconds, even stretching to extended minutes when we’re doing what we love.
Realistically though, I’m also supported by a loving husband and sons, good friends, colleagues, church family and other supporters who not only help put the difficult and challenging pieces of life’s puzzles in place, but also contribute to balancing life’s responsibilities.
I love life and find pleasure in simplicity and wholesome events. So…I make time to unwind, attend fun galas and enjoy the beautiful people, places and things that grace my surroundings.
What's your favorite food, book, music and movie?
Fish, shrimp and grapes are among my favourite foods, but special holidays are observed with my Grenadian dishes integrated with a bit of Canadian flavour. Next to ‘the Bible,’ ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ ranks high on my favourite list of books along with ‘The Student’s Companion.’
Musically, I’m sustained by Gospel music, but also enjoy R&B, classical, calypso and other genres depending on the mood. Instinctively, right now I’m encouraged by John King’s song ‘How Many More, Jah.’ This West Indian Activist makes us all proud with this fitting song that helps to soothe my troubled mind when thinking of and dealing with the ongoing epidemic of gun violence.
The Sound of Music is my all-time favourite movie without a doubt! Love the songs and singing! I always remember that I saw it in Grenada when it was released in 1965 and watch it religiously every year on TV even though I own a copy! Go figure!
What's your experience as a Black person in Canada?
Maturity plays a crucial role in how we are perceived, approached and even accepted. My professions allowed interactions with various cultures and created a desire to mingle, understand and participate in ethnicity. Because I possess a strong character, I’m often faced with the subtlety of racism which to any Black person is a deer with headlights. Blacks have an innate sensitivity to racism that cannot be masked or undetected. Our reaction to such disparagements plays in crucial role in our self-confidence and emotional maintenance.
My most blatant racial experience occurred four years ago when a Caucasian woman who I was organizing a training with, sat in my office and attempted to inform me of her “white privilege” coming into Jane/Finch. This colleague advised me that she would be sensitive to how trainees would treat me because they would be responding to her “white privilege.”
Instinctively, I took a deep breath, held her gaze intently and responded slowly so that every word would sink in. I advised my would-be colleague that maturity stands out before colour when dealing with people in general, because we are all created equally with the same bodies as male or female. Additionally I also pointed out that since she felt the need to indicate superiority, that she would actually be the minority since she was going to be my guest in Jane/Finch which is hugely diverse and therefore I would be sensitive to her insecurities. That person never made it to our training and is no longer in my sphere of influence.
Experientially, people who act or express discrimination are often insecure about some part of and often all parts of their lives. As a therapist, I work at helping people who face such degrading behaviours to improve their self-esteem, become confident on the varying levels of functioning and to love themselves. When we know and love ourselves; when we feel confident in who we are as strong, Black people; when we identify and embrace our abilities as deserving Black people, we can stand at par with and sometimes above the crowd. We can plateau ‘the little people’ who attempt, but fail to belittle us.
Are there as many opportunities for Blacks in Canada that can produce role models and institutions like TD-Jakes, Tyler Perry, Oprah, Obama, BET, etc:
Being visible minorities, the hard but simple truth is that Blacks have to work harder to be noticed and appreciated in Toronto. My younger son approached me with a question from one of his friends who wanted to know why I had so many credentials after my name. Without hesitation, my response, although true, needed some serious introspection.
I stated that I have a passion for academic excellence which was quickly followed by “and as a Black person, I had to ensure that my abilities carried the academics to substantiate it. As a visible minority we must prove, academically that we have what it takes and what is necessary for any position or task.”
I have to admit that this exercise has been VERY thought-provoking and reflective to say the least!
Mention a few of your favorite Black Canadian Leaders, Artists and Role Models?
Jean Augustine – Noteworthy Grenadian; Former Member of Parliament, first black Canadian Cabinet Minister; Ms. Augustine was also former deputy Speaker of the House of Commons.
Jennifer Hosten – A noteworthy Grenadian. As the Canadian High Commissioner to Grenada, Jennifer also was a Diplomat and author.
Senator Anne Cools - Sen. Cools represents Toronto-Centre-York. The first black person appointed to the Senate of Canada and the first black female senator in North America. Sen. Cools is very passionate about family and helpful in community affairs.
Madam Michelle Jean simply can’t be matched in academia and levels of persona as well as professional acclaim. She is classy, witty and a speaker extraordinaire. She willingly shares tips on presenting oneself well and commands an impressive attention in any demographic. Her ability to make you feel that you’re the only important person in her life during a meeting or conversation is beyond words! Her commitment to issues related to youth – particularly young girls is remarkable!
Jully Black - R&B/pop singer and humanitarian; Jully ranks high on my list of artists due to her humanitarianism and sensitivity to youth and others in need. She is personable, accommodating and not ashamed or afraid to show her vulnerability.
John King – Advocate, Calypso, Reggae, Pop & Soca star. King has gifted me and the world with his song on social justice from 1997: “How Many More, Jah.”
Patrick Knight – Principal and father (for now). This sensitive, caring individual has made remarkable strides in community advocacy and academic excellence for youth as well as himself. Knight is the first principal to receive an Academic Excellence Award from TDCB.
Dr. Tamari Kitosso - Researcher, Secretary and Co-Chair of the Brock African Recognition Committee and secretary to the Black Canadian Studies Association. A compassionate academe, Dr. Kitosso demonstrates a very passionate, deep concern for the Black families and community.
Al. St. Louis – Actor, Spoken Word Artist, Educator. Here’s another noteworthy Grenadian to follow. As he continues to evolve in artistry, we ought to expect great things from him.
Dr. Annette Bailey – Professor, Writer/Researcher – Deep concern for mothers related to gun-violence loss. She’s well on her way to becoming a prolific author.
Should & do Blacks support black music, events and businesses?
There seems to be a covert conspiracy around this topic. African Americans have made significant strides in this area of support and appear to have gained a healthy momentum which Canadian Blacks have yet to adopt.
Taking into consideration that we reside and function in a predominantly white country the onus is on us, collectively to support each other’s business, music and events. One of the main issues that have been identified over the years is the competitive edge, which at times becomes detrimental rather than healthy.
We need to develop and maintain a healthy approach to wanting our Blacks to succeed particularly in the areas of giftedness and in the corporate world. Common courtesy with the desire to accomplish ought to follow the “golden rule” of doing/wanting for others what we wish for ourselves. Too often we collectively, privately sabotage ourselves when we fail to encourage, support and promote each other. Hopefully as we continue to evolve in academics, personal and communal virtues, and experiential wisdom, we will also implement the examples acquired over the years. Our cooperative attitude would then validate a united front of healthy support and encouragement to our exceptional artists, businesses and events.
What’s your understanding of Black History in Canada?
I share an abstract I created for a presentation on the topic. From Cabinet Minister, to young black poets, to custodians, there is a kaleidoscopic of Black Diaspora which has significantly contributed to Canadian History. The trend of devastating inequality for Blacks, has synonymized crisis in the community with black leadership and history.
Black history is the uniqueness of presence, actions and contributions from Blacks and leaders which are weaved into the framework and fabric of Canadian communities and society in general. Unique black people, leaders as well as ordinary, everyday folks, intentionally and quietly tackle the persistent, tedious jobs of helping, supporting, mentoring, educating, mending fences and healing youth, families and communities in Canada.
All these activities produce a lasting, rich documentation which becomes the historic archives of Black Diaspora’s presence, capabilities and effect on Canada. Afro-Caribbean and African Canadian presence and contributions cannot be easily erased, despite attempts to minimize the legacies within Canada.
Although Canadians are generally oblivious of the significant contributions of blacks, specifically black leaders, archival sources with present-day sequences will blend qualitative and quantitative analyses to highlight the complex, admirable benefactions Canada inherited from the Black Diaspora.
Theoretical analyses from Black Studies, including scholarly reviews, irrefutably identify the black-oriented cultural and ‘nation-building process’ that has operated and enriched the textured lives of native Canadians. Ultimately, the dream of eradicating the devalued concept which systemically trivializes and miniaturizes unique black contributions will become reality.
Multiculturalism is an inherent stamp of Black History, which is now a Canadian reality. It is therefore historically un-refuted that the diaspora has enriched Canadian educational, political, business, religious, and cultural landscapes. We ought to be proud of our ancestry and continue to strive towards exceptional educational aptitudes, which, in my opinion, are among the antidotes to discrimination. People cannot challenge academic excellence and it inevitably makes race and even indifference less of an issue.