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Insights Black History Month Stories: Jacqueline Darwood

Some of our colleagues kindly accepted our invitation to share their story during Black History Month. Here is what they had to say.

Image of Jacqueline smiling

Jacqueline Darwood
, Manager, Transport Advisory Strategic Services

1.      Thank you for accepting our invitation, Jacqueline. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path?

Sure. I come from a line of strong women. My grandmother started her small business selling lunches to workers on a sugarcane plantation and eventually owned and operated a grocery shop. My mother worked for many years as a sewing machine operator to support her family, after the death of my father, when I was three years old. I was born in Jamaica and migrated to Canada in 2009, trying to escape from the high level of crime on the island. I have worked in the Transportation industry for more than 20 years in transit planning and operations. In 1998, I earned a master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems on a scholarship from the Dutch government. After that, I returned to Jamaica and worked in the bus transportation sector for eight years, where I reached the level of Director.

I then came to Canada and started over. I did a co-op program for internationally skilled professionals with the Peel Region Catholic School Board. The program helped new immigrants with writing a resume and getting attention from employers, it also offered placement opportunities. Mine was at the City of Mississauga, where I worked for two months. It allowed me to get a foot in the door.

I then moved to Fort McMurray for a job with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo as a Transit Scheduler/Planner. After three months in Fort Mc Murray, I was offered a six-month contract with Mississauga Transit. At the end of that contract period I was offered a job by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). That is where I cemented my career in Canada: I started as a Transit Planner and was promoted over time from Supervisor to Manager all the way to Head of Department. I worked there from 2011 to 2019 after which I worked in consulting and with the government of Ontario, before joining AtkinsRéalis .  

2.      What does Black History Month mean to you? 

The fact that we celebrate it means something. It is both happy and sad. We highlight our minor and major achievements. We are professionals, scientists, we have overcome slavery. It is a reminder of where we come from and what remains to be done. I would like to not be judged by the colour of my skin, to feel accepted and not have to constantly prove myself, for my son to feel safe and not see women sitting next to him on the bus clutch their purse when he sits down. Our biases are there, and they have an impact. I am hoping to see more people who look like me have a seat at the table. Everyone was blown away when Amanda Gorman recited her inauguration poem but there are many more like her who are not given the opportunity to shine. Let’s give them one. 

3.      Who is your greatest inspiration? 

A teacher I had in elementary school. She worked tirelessly to ensure her students would achieve their full potential. She would encourage us to speak up, to stand up for ourselves. I would not have achieved as much had it not been for her persistence. Even though I was one of the best students in my class all through elementary school, for some reason I did not do well on my Common Entrance Examination which is required to get in to high school in Jamaica. She knew the result did not reflect my abilities, so she went to the Ministry of Education and demanded a review. That is how I got to high school. She would expose us to different educational and cultural activities that our parents could not, such as the theater. I have stayed in touch with her and I now try to help others, as she did for me. 

4.      Do you have a favourite quote?

I do. It’s “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I keep repeating to my kids. 

5.      What is the best piece of advice that you would give to others?

I encourage new immigrants to buy real estate, to invest in a property instead of paying someone else’s mortgage. Otherwise, the savings that they came with could evaporate.

I also think that talking about diversity, be it race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, is refreshing and necessary. We learn how to listen, to better understand each other. We all have our biases. We are culturally diverse, therefore the way we speak, behave and interact is different. Let me give you an example. Friends of mine who are both from the Caribbean were talking one day. One is from Jamaica, the other one from St. Vincent. When the latter was sharing a story, the other one said “hush”, which she thought was insulting without saying it. She found out later that to her Jamaican friend, hush does not mean to stop talking, it means she can relate. To promote understanding, conversations need to be had.