Jones credits Enriched Support Program with his success

Ten years ago, Danardo Jones was playing “the game” – hanging out with gang members and dealing drugs on the streets of Toronto.

He was 16 and living with his mother, brothers and sisters and attending a high school in Toronto’s downtown core. Before long, the lure of the streets was overpowering and he dropped out of Grade 10.

“It wasn’t too long before I got caught up in what Toronto has to offer a young black man – a lot of bad things,” recalls the Jamaican-born, 26-year-old father of four.

“Now looking back, I can’t understand it. But back then it was actually fun. You got a rep as somebody who had brushes with the law. It gave you credibility on the street. Guys were scared of you, girls loved you. It was a romanticised way of life. That was the way it was sold to me.”

Today, Jones is a straight-A student in Carleton’s law program and he’s been on the Dean’s list every year. In September, he’s attending law school at the University of Ottawa.

But Jones admits it’s been a long, hard road from petty street criminal to top of the class. And he credits Carleton’s Enriched Support Program (ESP) with allowing him to reach his full potential.

“I was never told I could be a lawyer or a doctor, engineer or anything like that. I never grew up around people like that. You were told get a job,” Jones says, adding that he’s always wanted to be a lawyer.

“We were in a community where … nobody values you being a doctor or a lawyer. They call you a sell-out. I remember in my first year of university. I was trying hide the fact I was studying … It was taboo.”

He came to Ottawa in 2001, at 18, when things got “too hot” for him in Toronto. But the turning point didn’t happen until three years later.

“People died. My uncle got shot up and my brother got deported. I got arrested a couple of times. Things were going pretty bad,” Jones recalls.

That’s when a friend’s mother suggested that he look into a program at Algonquin College that helps people gain their high school equivalency.

Within a few months he successfully completed the Algonquin program and decided he wanted to go to university. But it wasn’t as simple for Jones as sending in an application. He was told that his options were slim to none.

Instead of giving up, he walked into Carleton’s recruitment office on a Friday afternoon in 2005 at 4:30 p.m., closing time. Jones convinced the woman there to give him five minutes of her time.

At first, she simply told him what others had, that his chances weren’t good.

“Then she said: ‘But here at Carleton we have a program called the Enriched Support Program.’ Everything on their website was speaking to me. I went thought the whole process and I got admitted into the ESP in fall of 2005,” says Jones.

He’s never looked back.

“He is the only person in his family who has done anything like this,” says Susan Lee, the ESP’s associate director of academic planning who has worked closely with Jones.

“He has given back to the program in so many ways. He was a mentor to other students, he’s been an academic coach. Students look up to him as a model of a scholar.”

In 2008, Jones and a friend also started a program called Seeds of Prevention which offers monthly legal seminars at a downtown community centre.

“Students who are participating in this program (ESP) achieve a high success rate. This is a place that we do see the extra-ordinary stories,” says Lee, adding that an estimated 80 per cent of ESP students are accepted into a Carleton BA program.

The Enriched Support Program (ESP) and Aboriginal Enriched Support Program (AESP) are one-year transition programs for students whose high school grades do not reflect their academic potential, and for other students seeking a supported learning experience in their first year of university. Since 1996, ESP has enrolled over 1,800 and, on average, admits 200 students annually. The AESP component was added in 2004, and enrolls 10 to 15 students per year.

“When I got into ESP, it wasn’t just getting into university,” says Jones, who graduates in June. “These people work with you because they want you to succeed, so it was hard not to succeed. There are so many different layers to catch you if you fell … everybody was tracking your progress.”

His mother, Christine Hamilton, is bursting with pride about her son’s accomplishments.

“It’s overwhelming and exciting. A lot of young guys go the wrong way and never get back on track. There’s always a way to correct your mistakes, and he did,” Hamilton said in a recent interview from Toronto.

“If I have to walk to Ottawa for graduation, I will.”

As for Jones, he says he has a little unfinished business at Carleton.

“I want a Senate medal. I want to end my Carleton saga with a bang.”

This entry was written by Maria McClintock and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: , . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

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