BHM: Robert Brown's dream became Tropicana

Robert Brown
By Gerald V. Paul

“Founder, Jamaican-born Robert Brown is the definite patriarch of Tropicana Community Services, and his work of faith and labour of love is a continuation of the benefits to our community for a long time to come,” Executive Director of Tropicana, Sharon Shelton told The Camera.

Shelton served with Brown in the early days as they served the community by building Tropicana into the largest Caribbean/Black social service delivery agency in Canada, with an annual budget of nearly $10 million geared to almost 30 programmes.

Brown’s dream has expanded into counseling to victims of domestic violence, settlement services, youth programmes including the Scarborough Youth Resource Centre, a one-stop shop for youth issues, and the Alternative Youth Centre for Employment, serving a catchment area bounded by Yonge Street on the West, Steeles on the North, Lake Ontario on the South and the City boundary on the East.

By the way, in the past five years, Tropicana is working with more Canadian-born children of immigrant parents.

“The staff group reflects the diversity of service users and thus are highly attuned to the issues of their clients. They can draw on their lived experience and provide service in a variety of languages and dialects,” Shelton said.

In running with Brown’s vision, mission and values, a charming Shelton said the multi-service organization, provides all youth, newcomers, people of Caribbean and Black heritage and others in need with opportunities and alternatives that lead to success and positive life choices.

And a grateful community is appreciative for the culturally appropriate programmes such as counseling, child care, educational and employment services and youth development.

Brown’s mission in his first major project was counseling services aimed at teenage drop-outs in a high need area of Scarborough.
As for the spate of youth violence in several neighbourhoods where many Caribbean/Black communities are located? Meet ART: Aggression Replacement Training.

Shelton said Brown would have loved to know that we are using ART as a three-pronged approach to teach strategies to avoid confrontation. Skills Streaming, Anger Control and Moral Reasoning are just three areas used effectively by Tropicana staffers.

Initial results indicate that participants have successfully used these new skills to avoid confrontation and violence, particularly in encounters with the family courts.

Today Tropicana serves over 22,000 people annually and is on an expansion programme, recently acquiring a new building to offer even more services to the public.

The improvement of their new facilities will have a tremendous impact on the community. “We look forward to creating even more dynamic programming and serving an increased number of clients,” Shelton said.

Brown served as President and Executive Director of Tropicana, the United Way’s first Black member agency, in 1980 as a non-profit agency to served disadvantaged youth and their families in East Scarborough.

He was enrolled in University in the late 1970’s when he and other students were assigned a project on needs assessment survey of a community in Scarborough. In their work they discovered the challenges facing youth. Determined to do something, the team sought broad support for the at-risk youths.

So, Tropicana was founded in 1980 as a non-profit agency to serve families. Through its diverse programmes, the agency aims to improve access to culturally appropriate counseling.

Small wonder Toronto Argonauts Chief Executive Officer, Michael “Pinball” Clemons congratulated founder Brown and Tropicana for the prolonged existence and consistency in delivering quality and much-needed programmes to young people in disadvantaged communities in the GTA.

“You have provided a foundation for us to build on. Now it’s time we pay more attention to you. There will be funds, foundations and programmes that will come and go….You are one of the most admired under appreciated resources in the city,” Clemons noted.

In Brown’s honour, Tropicana is sponsoring a $1500 scholarship in his name with te Black Business and Professional Association Harry Jerome Awards. It will be awarded with special consideration for Black males, to students pursuing a career in the field of Social Services at the Bachelor/Master’s degree level.

And so we say as a community during Black History Month: Thanks Mr. Brown …. Hakuna Matata…things will look better in the morning!