Black History Makers at Tropicana Community Services


Tropicana top image: © Pexels/Agung Pandit Wiguna

Sankofa: a word that comes from the Akan people of Ghana, Africa, that means “go back to the past and bring forward that which is useful.” It illuminates the principle that one should remember the past to make positive progress in the future.

It’s a philosophy that forms the basis of Tropicana Community Services’ (Tropicana’s) outlook this Black History Month and beyond. From its humble beginnings in 1980, Tropicana has grown into a widely respected agency that provides a wide array of programs designed to help with challenges affecting youth, newcomers, members of the Black, African, and Caribbean communities and others in need. Service offerings include Daycare, Youth Development, Employment, Scholarship, Food Security, and Culturally Appropriate Clinical Counseling programs.

This Black History Month, the organization is spotlighting history makers who have helped touch the lives and hearts of people everywhere, including those within the Tropicana community.

Zanana Akande © Courtesy of Tropicana

One such luminous person is Zanana Akande. Akande is a former Ontario MPP who served in the Ontario Legislature from 1990 to 1994. But of greater note, she was the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and the first to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada, having been appointed Minister of Community and Social Services. Now retired from political life, Akande continues to be involved in the community, serving as a volunteer on boards and committees of local organizations, including the YWCA and Centennial College.

Reflecting on Tropicana’s early days, Akande recalled the agency’s unique approach to collaboration with groups outside the Black community.

“They [Tropicana] could work within the Black community, and they also worked to enrich the views of others. You have to remember that years ago, there were many people in Toronto, Ontario, and Canada who had only stereotypical views of Blacks—who didn’t have real associations with Blacks. And I think that Tropicana did a great deal to make others familiar with what was going on inside the Black community by doing things with other communities.” Akande went on, “When we operate to build up our own community, it also gives us interactions with others that assist in breaking down the stereotypes and makes it possible for us to move forward.”

Reflecting on Tropicana’s early days, Akande recalled the agency’s unique approach to collaboration with groups outside the Black community.

Mary Ann Chambers, Tropicana, Black History Month
Mary Ann Chambers © Courtesy of Tropicana

Another prominent individual who made her mark in politics as a way to serve the public is Mary Anne Chambers, former Ontario MP from 2003 to 2007. Chambers was born in Jamaica and emigrated to Canada in 1976. And while her career in commerce was where she started, public service became the medium through which she achieved eminence, serving as a provincial Cabinet Minister, first as Minister of Training Colleges and Universities (2003-2005) and then as Minister of Children and Youth Services (2005-2007).

Prior to these roles, she was President of the Canadian Club of Toronto from 1998 to 1999. In 2003, she was awarded the Jamaican Prime Ministers Medal of Appreciation for Service for recognition of her work within Toronto’s Jamaican community. Today, Ms. Chambers serves as Chancellor of the University of Guelph.

Chambers’ special connection to Tropicana is well known. A former Tropicana Board member, she personally donated the initial funding for Tropicana’s START for Life Program. The pioneering life skills development program provides education on enhancing social skills necessary for positive and healthy interpersonal communication, anger control and decision-making.

Today, Tropicana carries on Chambers’ legacy, still delivering START for Life as the only Canadian organization certified to train START practitioners within school boards and other agencies.

Prior to these roles, she was President of the Canadian Club of Toronto from 1998 to 1999. In 2003, she was awarded the Jamaican Prime Ministers Medal of Appreciation for Service for recognition of her work within Toronto’s Jamaican community. Today, Ms. Chambers serves as Chancellor of the University of Guelph.

Beverly Salmon, Tropicana, Black History Month
Beverly Salmon © Courtesy of Tropicana

Helping others can start small but lead to grander things.
Beverley Salmon is an activist and former municipal politician in Toronto. She was the first Black woman elected to Municipal Council in Toronto, serving on North York Council from 1985-88. Her first motion changed the title “Alderman” to “Councillor.” A formidable history maker, Salmon began her career as a Registered Nurse and had the distinction of being a Victorian Order Nurse. Inspired by Martin Luther King, she became involved in civil rights activism. Salmon was a founding member of the Toronto Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) during the rise of racial tensions in the 1970s.

She is also the founding chair of the Toronto Board of Education’s Black Liaison Committee, where she worked to institute anti-racism training for teachers and to increase coverage of Black history in the curriculum. Her contributions were such that she became the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s first Black female Commissioner. The distinctions are also truly notable awards, such as the Excellence in Politics, African Canadian Achievement Awards and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Order of Ontario in 2016 and then the Order of Canada in 2017.

Salmon was a close friend of Tropicana’s late founder, Dr. Robert Brown, in the early ’80s, when Tropicana was first incorporated. She recalled his focus on alienated Black youth in Scarborough who had dropped out of school. “He would be amazed at the growth of things at Tropicana today. I know he would be very pleased,” she said.

Reflecting on the agency’s contribution to Black History in Canada, Salmon added that “Tropicana was really a pioneer in what they were doing at the time…there were many other initiatives focused on education curriculum and race relations, but Tropicana carved out a special niche in focusing on youth that were drop outs and having difficulties. So I think the impact was obviously very lasting and meaningful.”

Raymund Guiste, Tropicana, Black History Month
Raymund Guiste © Courtesy of Tropicana

Looking ahead, Tropicana’s future is as important as its past. Raymund Guiste, who currently serves as Tropicana’s Executive Director and CEO, has been at the organization’s helm for three years. He led the agency through the pandemic—growing its capacity and funding during those challenging and unprecedented times. With a background in social justice and a drive to make positive change in the community, Guiste was recognized in 2022 for his efforts, being named one of the country’s 100 most influential Black Canadians and receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Award for his community contributions.

“Any influence I have is because of the incredible leaders and people I’m surrounded by and get to work with,” said Guiste. He and his leadership team are moving Tropicana in a bold new direction that seeks to have an impact beyond its historical geographic boundaries of Scarborough. “A guiding principle of our new strategic direction is to ensure local care while striving to have national impact,” said Guiste. “We want to maintain our local linkages even as we expand our geographic reach, never forgetting our roots nor our immediate local neighbours.”

During his time at Tropicana, Guiste has overseen the design and launch of innovative new programs such as the PARRY Program, which engages youth and businesses in the struggle against Anti-Black Racism by building resilience in young job seekers. The program also aims to assist employers in identifying and eliminating systemic barriers in their workplaces. Funded by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), the program is in its second year and continues to make a difference in the lives of Toronto youth.

Guiste is also a co-founder and co-designer of the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative (SBCCI), a historic national initiative that marks the first time, ever that the Canadian government has distributed funding to the Black Community through Black-led intermediary agencies. Since 2020, Tropicana has disbursed over $5 million in grants to over 150 black-led and serving, not-for-profit organizations across Canada. Established with a partnership between Tropicana in Toronto, the Black Business Initiative (BBI) in Nova Scotia, and Groupe 3737 in Québec and funded by Employment and Social Development Canada, the program has seen expansion since its launch in 2020. The founding group of Black National Funders welcomed Africa Centre, in Alberta, as a fourth funding agency in 2021.

“I’m proud and inspired by the life-changing work our teams and partners do day in and day out. Tropicana’s work touches children, youth, adults and seniors through our many programs that help build and secure their futures,” said Guiste. He continues to enjoy working alongside his motivated team of staff and volunteers. “It’s the people whose lives Tropicana has touched who make our work so meaningful.”

Tropicana is truly a hub that delivers upon the needs of the community it strives to support.

These History Makers will be featured at Tropicana’s Second Annual Black History Month Excellence in Leadership Fireside Chat on February 25th, 2023. To find out more, visit

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At Tropicana we offer culturally aware and supportive programs to those in need, including but not limited to counselling, settlement services, childcare, education, personal development, and employment services, with a predominant focus on the Caribbean, Black and African communities of Toronto.


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