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Black History Month: Our Black team members share their stories

Throughout Black History Month, we have been sharing stories and insights from members of the Black community, both at Rogers and in our communities. Today, we’re shining a light on the reflections of a few of our team members and how they give back to their communities.

This is Penny Cromwell’s story.

Rogers employee Penny Cromwell smiling at event

My name is Penny Cromwell. Some may know me as “LadyP”, one of the first female MC’s in Canada inducted into the DJ Stylus Universal Music Canada Hall of Fame with Killowatts Krew in 2007.

Born in London, England, I came to Canada in 1970 with my Guyanese parents. As a teenager I had the opportunity to MC at high school events in Mississauga.

Before I knew it, I was MC’ing with classics like Doug E. Fresh, LL Cool J, Run-DMC, The Fresh Prince aka Will Smith, Biz Markie, UTFO and Whodini rap group to name a few. One of my most favourite memories is an MC Battle contest with Canada’s Godfather of rap, “Maestro Fresh Wes”. I came in a very close second place to him in the contest (but, as one of the first female MC’s I think I won!).

“At the time, I didn’t realize the fun I was having would have a huge impact on who I’ve become and what I bring to the table – encouraging women and young people around the world to know that having fun and living your dream can make history.”

Today, I devote my time to the community, working with local district school boards and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada to share my life experiences in hopes that my story will resonate with someone and guide them to a better place in life. I truly believe and live by the words of Maya Angelou “When you learn, teach”. As a single mother of a Black son (who is a former Canadian Track and Field record holder— and my world!), I humbly believe my story of overcoming certain hurdles in life shows that your story is your story, your journey is your journey, and it can only be written by you.

I have had many people serve as role models in my life. I will always shout out my parents who left Guyana on a ship in the 60’s to London, England for a better life and career. They taught me to love, respect, achieve goals, learn from my mistakes be better, and the importance of an education. These are the hard-coded skills that I lean on heavily in raising my son and living life!

This is Shemroy Parkinson’s story.

Rogers employee Shemroy Parkinson

If I can be truly transparent, I haven’t always enjoyed being in this Black skin of mine.

I’m 33 years old, born and raised in Scarborough, but growing up I went to school, for most of my elementary and high school years in East York, where I was “The Token”, the outlier, just plain different.

“I’m almost ashamed to say this but for a long time, my self-concept was shaped by others. I allowed what others thought of me and my skin colour to dictate how I viewed myself, something I can now proudly say, I don’t do anymore.”

Part of how I’ve been able to regain pride in who I am has come from my work with my church. If I’m not at work, I’m at church, either helping the youth with their schoolwork or singing, as I lead my church choir. I’m really big on ‘paying it forward’. If it wasn’t for the foundation that my church and its members gave me growing up, I’m not sure where I’d be right now and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Someone who has really helped me develop into the man I am today, actually passed away not too long ago; my minister, Evan Reid. Talk about a man with wisdom and grace. He knew how to strike the perfect balance between, ‘SUCK IT UP SHEM!’ and ‘IT’S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY’ with the way he handled my sometimes-dramatic ways. I miss him. It’s sometimes a struggle to remind myself that, “I am enough”, but whenever I find negative thoughts about myself creeping into my mind, I am quickly reminded that I am no longer that awkward, Grade 6 kid, who stuck out solely because of his skin colour. Nope, now, I’m an awkward, 30-year-old, who shines from within and radiates through this beautiful Black skin of mine.

This is Terone Harris’ story.

Rogers employee Terone Harris with child in gym wearing medals from sporting competition

My name is Terone Harris. Family, community and sports are my passions. I am a father to a fun, caring and energetic 8-year old daughter and an equally energetic 11-month old son.

When I’m not dedicating my efforts to them or improving our customers’ experiences as a Senior Analyst of Voice Insights, I volunteer my time proudly with the City of Brampton’s youth basketball program. I’ve been fortunate to serve as a youth coach with the Brampton Minor Basketball Association for close to twenty years and have been elected as an Executive Board Member in various roles since 2009.

Being involved with BMBA allows me to directly contribute to the well-being and growth of the youth in my community. While very little beats being in the gym, the off-court initiatives we provide to promote continuous education, healthy lifestyle choices, diversity and community aid amongst our members is where I feel we impact their lives the most. I’m humbled that I get to participate in creating a space where they can feel comfortable with who they are, access resources to learn new skills and meet with their peers socially.

“This creates an environment where our younger generations feel like they belong, and where they understand that they have the power to carry the culture of that environment going forward.”

I too understood this, as I had strong influences early in my life who inspired me to always find ways to give back. My parents (my first coaches) and my uncle who used to be my volunteer coach in the same program I’m in now. Together, they taught me that you earn a living by what you make, a life by what you give and a chance to make a difference every time you connect with someone. I continuously aim to drive that same inspiration into the many future leaders of our generation that I engage with, both on and off the court.

This is Sharon Hinds’ story.

Rogers employee Sharon Hinds

Growing up as a young girl in Guyana, my parents inspired me to always follow my dreams and goals.

My Mother has always been my biggest mentor and supporter, she taught me a few life lessons that I still live by to this day; always be humble, be true to myself, listen & learn from others, be grateful and try to learn something new every day.

From the age of 7 to 18, I had the privilege of attending ballet school, giving me the opportunity to perform in the stage production of The Sound of Music. And later I did professional modelling across the Caribbean.

As a newcomer to Canada in 1991, I recall my first job interview where I was told that I didn’t have “Canadian experience.” I didn’t let that answer deter me, I challenged the interviewer and re-iterated my skills and background. Following my rebuttal, the interviewer acknowledged my positive energy and offered me the position. Throughout my personal career journey, I have experienced both overt and covert racism, ageism and microaggressions, for example those subtle comments like, “you speak so well” and “you don’t sound Guyanese”. My full growth, development and career accomplishments would not be possible without the contributions from my allies, mentors and sponsors, many of whom are not from my diverse background.

“If I were to live my life over again, perhaps I’d listen more to my intuition (inner voice). However, I am the woman I am today because of all the choices I’ve made in the past and all the experiences I have gained both through failure and successes.”

My personal passion and lived experiences are what motivate me daily to see change happen and I know that I can have a bigger impact advocating for Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives by being a part of the change in order to drive the change. Today, I devote my time to mentoring graduates from McMaster & Ryerson University and young black professionals in marginalized communities.

This is Jessica Benjamin’s story.

Rogers employee Jessica Benjamin

Growing up there weren’t many kids that looked like me in my class, my mother is from Guatemala and my dad is Haitian, and I always felt somewhat different, especially when classmates would ask me why my skin was dirty, or why my hair wasn’t nice like theirs.

My mom would always tell me in Spanish, “tu ere hermosa como tu eres” – you’re beautiful just the way you are!

As a teenager, I would often straighten my hair because I always wanted to fit in any way possible. Until I watched an episode of Oprah one evening, where she spoke about race and how important it is for us to love ourselves and that black is beautiful.

“I now have two children of my own 12 and 17 years old and ever since they were born, I made sure they knew that black is beautiful and to never let anyone tell them different!”

I still get comments today on how pretty I am “for a black girl”, that I am one of the “good ones”, or how impressive it is that I speak “proper” French and English, and the list goes on… I always put those who make comments like these in their place, because comments like these are wrong, and it shows that things still need to change, so I do what I can to make that change. I devote a lot of my free time to my kids and their school to speak about race and how we should not discriminate, I also actively contribute to the LGTB2Q+ community in different online platforms, helping other parents accept their children who identify as members of the community, this is very important to me as I too am raising a black gay young man.

The two people that I look up to the most are both my children, they’ve allowed me to see the world through their eyes, and I’ve learned from them just as much as they have learned from me. They are very open with me on their day-to-day and share with me their experiences which I then use as material to bring into vlogs, schools, online platforms etc. sharing my thoughts on where we need to do better for our children of colour. Sharing our stories and showing support to one another makes a huge impact for the children of our future and current. This is the first step in making a change!