Educator Jay Williams was ‘hugely respected’ by his students

by Ron Fanfair
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Ruell Gomez (left), Patricia Senior, Paulette Senior, Raisha Senior-Pinnock & Jay Williams

Jay Williams and Brione Wishart were collaborating on a project to connect workshop
facilitators with school boards and community organizations. They were also talking about
producing an educational podcast that would include Matthew Morris, a close friend of
Williams who is an educator and writer.
During an early morning conversation on February 28, Williams told Wishart he knew
someone who might be able to help them get a grant for the podcast.
“I said it was a great idea and would give it some thought,” he said. “The next morning, I
messaged him, suggesting that the grant money could be used to shoot a pilot that would
involve him interviewing educators and students.”
A few minutes later, Williams’ cousin texted Wishart, saying ‘Unfortunately, Jay passed
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) educator died suddenly in the early hours of
February 29. He was 40.
To say Wishart was stunned is an understatement.
“At first, I thought this guy was testing my loyalty or running some sick assessment of
me,” said the creative entrepreneur. “When I called his phone, the cousin answered and
confirmed that Jay was no longer with us. This guy had so much to offer.”
Last January, Williams was part of a Youth Career Summit panel at Malvern Library that
Wishart and his cousin, Toronto Police Constable Lancelot Waddell, helped put together
through their organization, Elevate to Achieve, with assistance from Toronto Police 42
Division’s neighbourhood community officers. It included serial entrepreneur Flo King
who introduced him to Wishart. About six years ago, she met Williams who mentored her
only child, Tyai King.
“I was struggling with Math, and I didn’t even want to be in school,” said Tyai King. “Jay
took me under his wing and invested the time to understand who I am and what works for
me. He let me know that education is very important, and I could do better. He pushed me
to do better and I am so grateful I met him. I would not be here today had it not been for
Jay caring about me and wanting to see me succeed.”
Williams promised King that he would help him buy a computer if he graduated high
school with honours.
The young man made the honour roll at Mary Ward Catholic High School and Williams
kept his end of the bargain.
King is in his final year of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Business Management
Juno-nominated recording artiste Keysha Freshh was also on the panel with Flo King and
“Jay and I spoke a lot about how we can expand each other’s network and work together to
advocate for Black youth in the school system which is something he was passionate about
and I am also,” said Freshh. “He saw the power in building a network to do this work

across all school boards. Every school I enter and every education conference I attend from
now on, I will do so in his memory to honour him.”
Due to address new TDSB teachers on the day he died, Williams was a member of
Canada’s largest school board for 14 years.
Director of Education Colleen Russell-Rawlins said staff, students and families hugely
respected him.
“Jay had an incredible ability to connect with people and always made time to reach out to
former students and colleagues that he worked with,” she said. “He was very committed to
helping other educators across our district create spaces that affirm the identity of all
learners and close gaps in achievement. His presence, knowledge and leadership will be
greatly missed.”
Born and raised in Toronto, Williams completed a Bachelor of Science in Public Health
Education & Promotion at Dalhousie University where he played varsity basketball and
was an assistant coach in his final year in 2007, and a Bachelor of Education two years
later at Ontario Tech University.
He taught mainly Grade 8 in TDSB middle schools and was an Equity, Anti-Racism &
Anti-Oppression coach for students from kindergarten through Grade 12 before joining the

Centre of Black Excellence for Black Student Achievement last July as an equity co-

Karen Murray said the Centre was Williams’ ‘home away from home’.
“Even though he was on my Equity team, Jay supported a lot of the work at the Centre

because I don’t have a lot of males here,” said the System Superintendent for Equity, Anti-
Racism & Anti-Oppression. “He supported programming when it came to staff, students

and the community in addition to his job as equity co-ordinator. He had an indomitable
spirit, and he was authentically real. Who he was permeated everything he did. He was so
committed to the students.”
Murray said many students wept when they learned he had died.
“A lot of former students were still in touch with him for many reasons,” she said. “They
connected with him when they were having challenges or when there was a celebration.
This is not easy.”
Jason Kandankery, the TDSB Centrally Assigned Principal with responsibility for Systems
Navigation, worked with Williams on initiatives linked to the Board’s Combatting Hate &
Racism Strategy.
“Jay was part of a team creating lessons that affirm the identity of Black students and
showcasing Black joy and excellence,” said the former Nelson Mandela Public School
principal. “He was very passionate about moving from deficit narratives around any
community. He led through his actions and was a good listener. When Jay spoke, people
paid attention because his stance was one of confident humility. He was able to connect
with people and get them to follow him on the journey of change.”
Two years ago, Williams reached out to award-winning educator Ainsworth Morgan for
“He felt he needed support navigating the Board as a Black male educator,” recalled the
TDSB Centrally Assigned Principal for Caring & Safe Schools. “I was also impressed with
his emotional intelligence.”
As an educator, Wilfrid University Faculty of Education assistant professor Ardavan
Eizadirad said Williams’ commitment went beyond textbooks.

“Jay believed in the transformative power of knowledge and lived experiences and the
boundless potential within each student,” he said. “His tireless dedication to education and
to change for the better was not just about teaching facts, but instilling values of empathy,
equity and social change.”
Eizadirad said that Williams, who was a member of the African Canadian Heritage
Association program, shone as an activist.
“He fearlessly stood at the forefront of movements, raising his voice against injustice and
inequality,” said the certified national basketball official. “His advocacy was fuelled by
compassion and driven by a vision to contribute to a world where every voice mattered and
where every individual was seen, heard and valued, especially Black students.”
Spoken word artiste Dwayne Morgan was Williams’ Summer Camp counsellor at
Tropicana Community Services Organization in the late 1990s.
“You could tell that he had his head on straight,” the Order of Ontario appointee said.
“When I saw the work he was doing in the community and with education, it made sense.”
Durham District School Board communications specialist Charles Senior said the family is
“We knew he was working out there in the community to make a difference, but we are
now realizing the magnitude and depth of it and the impact he was making,” said
Williams’ uncle.
Even though he was very involved in the community, Senior said his nephew was family
“Jay, JJ or Jermaine as we knew him was always there for any function that involved
family,” he said. “I celebrated my birthday on the day he passed away and he was looking
forward to attending the celebration two days later.”
Williams was very proud of his Jamaican-born mother, Paulette Senior, who was appointed
to the Canadian Senate last December.
The swearing-in ceremony took place on February 6.
Two days later, Williams made an emotional post on Facebook.
“Pride doesn’t do this feeling justice. Nah. I am overcome with emotion witnessing you
continue to climb to insurmountable heights. Heights that were never supposed to be
attainable for US. I am amazed each day at the example you have set and continue to set.
But truth be told, I should not be surprised. I have had a front-row seat to the dedication,
work, sweat, pain, success and failures put in over the decades while being the superhero
to me you have always been.
“It is not lost on me why I have chosen the path I have from the examples you presented.
President, CEO, Doctor, Politician, Activist. You have smashed through glass ceilings, set
the bar and reset it over and over again. I am grateful, as many of us are, that you have
allowed us to join you on this journey. You have remained humble and consistent and
shown us all what integrity, belief in self and excellence can achieve. Looking back, I have
had a few folks I have looked up to for various reasons. Maybe, they were good at hoops or
repped for the community. However, I have only ever had one role model and it has always
been you. Congrats Senator Senior aka My Mama.”
Williams was Senior’s only child.
In addition to his mother, he is survived by his father Ron Williams and five siblings.

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