Dotty Nicholas – Championing Education for Sickle Cell

Dotty Nicholas

By Lincoln DePradine

Most students desirous of pursuing a college or university education need help financing their studies. For some – such as kids with sickle cell disease (SCD) – they require both financial and healthcare assistance.

Many in Toronto have found the needed healthcare and financial aid through retired registered Nurse, Jamaican-born Dotty Nicholas, a founding-member of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Canada and an ex-president of the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario.

Nicholas, also a former vice president of the Sickle Cell Awareness Group of Ontario, now is president of Dotty Nicholas Sickle Cell Scholarship Fund Association (DNSCSFA).

In the last decade, the DNSCSFA has presented more than 50 scholarships to young SCD patients, who are involved in post-secondary course studies.

Winners from left Emmanuella Anokye, Marcus Dove, Amelia Samms & Shaneia Elliott

The latest scholarship recipients were unveiled last Saturday, at the Global Kingdom Ministries in Scarborough, at the DNSCSFA’s 11th scholarship awards’ ceremony.

“I’m so grateful to Miss Dotty for supporting my pursuit for post-secondary education. This scholarship helps a lot more than any of you would know,’’ said student Tasie Okoeri, after receiving her award on Saturday.

It’s the second time Okoeri has received a DNSCSFA scholarship.

The annual scholarship presentation is attended by event sponsors, donors and supporters, as well as representatives of the sickle cell community.

According to Nicholas – a former employee at Rouge Valley Health System in Scarborough, and a Christian preacher with a Master’s degree in Theology – sickle cell-affected children face “many challenges’’ that impact their “day to day lives”.

Her work with them, she explained, is her attempt to try to improve their “quality of life’’, saying “we are poised to make a significant impact, and to expand this initiative beyond our imagination, as we work with many partners and volunteers”.

Saturday’s speakers included diplomat Kurt Davisand politicians Gary Anandasangaree and Andrea Hazell.

Anandasangaree, federal Liberal MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park, called Nicholas a “dear friend and mentor and motherly figure’’.

SCD has the highest frequency in tropical regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and among people of African descent in the Diaspora. It leaves patients in excruciating pain during what is known as a “sickle cell crisis’’.

Davis, Jamaica’s consul general in Toronto, said that “one in every 150 Jamaicans is born with sickle cell disease”.

He commended Nicholas, labelling her a “champion’’, and referred to the students, afflicted with the “chronic ailment’’ of SCD and the recipients of DNSCSFA scholarships, as “overcomers’’.

Liberal MPP Hazell, the keynote speaker, underscored the importance of “grit’’ in one’s school and work life, drawing on her own experience.

Hazell, provincial representative for Scarborough-Guildwood, was born in Jamaica to a Jamaican mother and a Vincentian father.

After almost three decades in a private sector firm, she took early retirement to open her own financial consultancy company.  She then turned to politics and was elected to the Ontario legislature a year ago.

“I can’t tell you the amount of times that I hit that glass ceiling and I could no more move forward and upward. But, I always find a way to push through; I always find a way to move forward, and I’m always lifting my people up with me,’’ Hazell said. “It’s very, very, very important that we all continue to do that for our people; that’s what Miss Dotty is doing.’’

Nicholas is “an inspiration to so many of us”, said Hazell, Liberal Party critic for transportation, multiculturalism and women’s issues. “Keep up the good fight. You are a true testament of what courage, hope and faith looks like.’’

Community is everything, said Andrea, and “we must continue to rally around each other. I am begging you that when you reach the top, we need to look around; we need to look down; and we need to pick our brothers and sisters up.”