Giving Back – How the perspiration behind one scholarship should be an inspiration to us all

Metrolinx News recently covered Jean Augustine’s appearance at an internal Metrolinx Black History Month event. Augustine, a celebrated champion of Black History month in Canada, talked about the importance of giving back to the community. That doesn’t just happen in isolation or with a snap of the fingers. It takes the perseverance of someone who is able to rally others to a cause. This is one of those stories. 

Duwayne Williams remembers during his university years, he faced a choice.  

“There were days in my third year of university where I had to decide, do I buy lunch, or do I keep my money for the GO train so that I can head home,” said Williams.  

It’s a struggle etched in Duwayne Williams memory and has inspired him to give back – as well as rally others.

Before we go further in this story about a Metrolinx leader who managed to get a scholarship up and running, Williams will be quick to say it’s not just about one man. That there have been so many others who have rallied to make it possible – at home and at work.

“I grew up in a small village in Jamaica where people didn’t have a lot and all they did was help each other.”

Duwayne Williams, Chief of Engineering at Metrolinx

But we also wanted to find lessons in where the original inspiration, and perspiration, behind an idea to give back really begins. To perhaps argue, through Williams’ efforts, that doing some good is possible for many of us, even though it may seem like it shouldn’t be.

Williams, who is the Chief of Engineering at Metrolinx, worked long nights in a magnet factory to work his way through Ryerson University. When he finished his schooling, he was determined to find a way to help other students so that they wouldn’t have to go through some of the struggles he experienced. 

Image shows Duwayne.
Duwayne Williams. (Duwayne Williams photo)

“I’m really fortunate where I am now, so I decided to call up the school, I asked them how I can help and told them what my dollar value was and what I could do for a five-year commitment,” he said.  

Williams formed the Caribbean First Generation Award – a scholarship aimed at helping a first-generation student who is of Black, Caribbean or West Indian Caribbean descent. 

Surprise to family

Setting up the scholarship initially came as a surprise to his family – who were all-in, but also had to help him figure out the logistics as they afforded real life. 

“My wife was like ‘Great! But how are we going to pay for a scholarship? We have a 14-year-old kid who is also going to need money for school in a few years,” Williams recalled.  

But with the promise of what they could accomplish, his wife was soon just as excited about the plan as he was. She would be the first brought onboard to make it happen – but not the last.

Williams and his wife work by prioritizing their home budget – avoiding spending money on things they don’t need.  

“I can think of lots of things I spend money on in a year,” Williams said. “I can probably look back and say, yeah, that was fun, but I can use that money to help somebody.”  

While Williams isn’t paying for the full tuition of students, he’s helping with what he has, something he says is part of his culture. 

“I grew up in a small village in Jamaica where people didn’t have a lot and all they did was help each other,” he remembered. “So, to me, now that I have stuff, I can’t find the excuse not to help.”

The help Williams started has now been amplified thanks to the support of his friends and family who have also started to pitch in. It’s not, and has never been, about one man, he knows.

Together, they are now helping five Ryerson students – something Williams never thought he’d be able to do a year ago when he first started the scholarship. 

Two of the students that are recipients of the scholarship - Kaitlyn Alexander (left) and Mikayla Hamid (right)
Two of the recipients of the scholarship – Kaitlyn Alexander (left) and Mikayla Hamid (right).

Find the time and inspiration

“There are people who say they don’t have time to volunteer,” he explained.

“I don’t have enough time to do this or do that, well the reality is, a lot of the people who do it are in the same boat.

“They don’t have a lot of time either, they find the time and they make it work.”

Just as Williams and his many supporters and backers, including within Metrolinx, have done.

For more information on his scholarship, click here.

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson, media relations and issues specialist