Akanimo Udofia, international entrepreneur, was in his Yorkville apartment watching television the night of July 16.
What he saw broke his heart.
The lead late news item that night was the Danzig Street mass shooting, and the Nigerian-born Udofia was moved, recalling in a release this week “the inevitable images of young black men and women, being carted away on stretchers reinforced what Akanimo knew he must do.”
The Harvard University Business School graduate, who “commutes back and forth to Nigeria and all over Europe,” had no connection to the shooting scene, a townhouse complex in Scarborough’s West Hill area its housing authority landlord calls Morningside Coronation.
But Udofia, reflecting on the street-party violence there that left two people dead, and 23 others including a toddler wounded, said every life should matter.
That’s why he’s giving the Danzig townhouse community $150,000 over the next three years.
“I choose to be a role model, to show these kids that there’s a big world out there. Canada presents them, if they choose to and are motivated, the opportunity to acquire skills that are much sought-after around the world,” said Udofia’s release, adding “the emerging economies of Africa can use a skilled, talented and reformed youth from the Danzig community in Toronto and I can help.”
In Jamaica soon after the shooting, Udofia met an acquaintance of Michael Thompson, a Scarborough councillor and the city’s economic development chairperson.
Soon, he was in Thompson’s city hall office.
“We had a discussion. He said he wanted to help,” the councillor said on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
Udofia, who had done philanthropic work in Nigeria and East London, wanted something done for the residents before December. He toured the townhouse complex with Thompson, met its residents and Gene Jones, CEO of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation.
Danzig Street residents helped put a proposal for the funding together, and this week, Thompson, with Jones and local councillors Ron Moeser and Paul Ainslie, accepted Udofia’s first cheque for $50,000.
His gift, combined with a blitz launched a month ago to address backlogged repairs and the November arrests of three young men Toronto police charged with murder in the July 16 violence, should help residents move past images which, as the Danzig Residents Committee wrote this week, painted their community “as a dangerous area and stigmatized some of the residents based on their perceived socio-economic status as justification” for the shooting.
The committee, which formed after the incident and organized two peace walks and a back-to-school barbecue there, has told the city residents wanted a safe space with resources for children, a place to foster academic excellence and help adult residents employment and careers.
Under their three-year proposal, administered through the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club, a single townhouse residents named “Our Space” will be renovated and equipped with furniture, computers, tutors and instructors who can offer specialized training and, by next July, summer programming.
A scholarship fund will also be formed to grant $5,000 to one boy and one girl from Danzig each year, said Thompson, adding residents attending the presentation Wednesday were excited and pleased about the community’s new prospects.
“They realize they’re part of the solution in order to ensure their own success,” he said.