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Beloved Toronto teacher Jay Williams remembered for uplifting students in Black community

(Courtesy: @iam_j_will/Instagram)

A beloved Toronto educator and community leader leaves a lasting legacy that sought to dismantle systemic barriers within the education system. 

Just a few months after celebrating his 40th birthday, Williams passed away on Feb. 29. However, his legacy will continue making an impact in Toronto’s educational and Black communities. 

“He was both approachable and focused in the way in which he promoted adult and student learning as part of the team at the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement. His smile, warmth, and wisdom will stay with us forever,” Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Director of Education Colleen Russell-Rawilins said in a statement to Now Toronto.  

Williams was more than just an educator – he was an author, consultant, and activist for policy changes to uplift Black students, so they feel more comfortable being their authentic selves in and beyond the classroom.

Last February, The Brandon Gonez Show interviewed Williams about his role at the Equity Department at the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement. 

“There’s anti-Black racism and anti-oppression of all types. There’s Islamophobia, Xenophobia, there’s antisemitism,” Williams commented. “We know those exist within schools and school spaces. We also know that teachers are on a continuum of learning and hopefully doing this work in some way, shape or form.”

Systemic changes and representation was at the centre of Williams’ work. His most recent and last contribution was for Nelson Education’s Edwin digital learning platform for science material in Grades four to nine. It is intended to be used as a resource across North America. 

“Jay demonstrates great understanding of and sensitivity to the need to honour and celebrate each student’s individuality and to tap into each child’s unique strengths as a learner,” Nelson Education Program Specialist Jane McNulty said in a statement on Williams’ website.

Williams was unafraid to express vulnerability and the importance of mental health, encouraging Black men to challenge traditional ideas of masculinity. 

“I cry a lot man, not gonna lie,” Williams said on the Black is the New Rich podcast. “It’s important to recognize who you were as a young person, and then learning from them and instilling those lessons as you get older.” 

Although the educational community is devastated by the death of Williams, his family and friends honour how dedicated and passionate he was. 

“Jay had an ability to enter a room and not be quiet, but also not be loud simultaneously,” William’s close friend and colleague Matthew Morris said to Now Toronto. “As Black people, that is something that is so hard to do day in and day out.”

His legacy is that he entered spaces and shook them up to change them for the better for the next generation, according to Morris. 

To watch the tribute video for Jay Williams on The Brandon Gonez Show’s Instagram, click here. 



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