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Obituary of Keren Sophia Brathwaite
Service of Thanksgiving for the life of
Dr. Keren Brathwaite
Live Stream link: https://youtube.com/live/7RQC7fs4srU?feature=share
OBITUARY OF DR. KEREN SOPHIA BRATHWAITE
Keren Sophia Brathwaite (née Williams) was born on October 5th 1940 in Bolans, Antigua, W.I., the 3rd child of Martha (née Christian) and Edgar Williams. Her early education started in Bolans Primary School. She gained entrance into Antigua Girls High School, traveling from her village to the capital St. John’s. She built many lifelong friendships there, and like many of her generation, she strove for opportunities that would take her far from her homeland. Keren would go on to earn a Scholarship to travel to attend the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston, Jamaica, joining young people from across the Caribbean in the pursuit of education.
When Keren graduated, she returned home to teach literature at Antigua Grammar School, as well as with the UWI Extra-Mural Dept. By the late 1960's, she moved to Toronto, Canada. There she immersed in the life and movements of the city, joined thousands who were migrating from the Caribbean, Africa, Afro-America, and England, transforming the face, sound, feel and culture of the city and the country during rapidly changing times. Earning a Commonwealth Scholarship to attend the University of Toronto, she continued her studies in Adult Education at OISE. She became involved in community organizations, and also connected with others from her native land, becoming one of the co-founding members, and the first vice-president, of the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Toronto.
She also started her career at the U of T. It was while she was still a student, that one summer would go on to change the course of her life's work. Recognizing that universities in Toronto were often inaccessible to Black students, Keren along with Horace Campbell started a grassroots initiative, and ran a summer program to prepare mature students for applying to university. By the end of the summer, five students gained admission to York U. The 2nd summer, Black, Indigenous and working class participants gained entry to U of T, and the roots of the Transitional Year Program (TYP) were born. Keren would go on to teach, coordinate and direct at TYP for over 30 years, mentoring, inspiring and teaching thousands of students during her tenure at U of T.
As she married and started a family, Keren’s focus on improving education and access for Black students grew. A loving and engaged mother, she got a close look into the inner workings of the public school system, and the effects on Black children like her own. She became a committed advocate, collaborating with other parents to form the Organization of Parents of Black Children (OPBC). They successfully advocated for the implementation of Black Cultural Heritage programs in the Toronto District School Board, connecting thousands of young students to the contributions, histories, legacies, cultures and traditions of people of African descent, and inspiring the development of cultural heritage education programs for students from many diverse backgrounds. Through the years, she continued to fight for equity, access, achievement and change for her people and for her communities.
In recognition of her contributions, she has been honored with the City of Toronto Award of Merit, and the Distinguished Educator Award from OISE/UofT. In 2008, she was inducted as an Officer of the Most Distinguished Order of Merit of Antigua and Barbuda. In 2009, she was conferred an Honorary Doctorate by U of T, earning the title of Dr. Keren Brathwaite, Hon Doc.
Keren passed away on June 20th, 2023 in Toronto, Canada. She was predeceased by her siblings Rev. Sheila Maitland, Alphonso Williams, and Cadwell Simon. She is survived by her children Wendy Brathwaite and Edward Brathwaite; her siblings Miles Williams, Clotilda Williams, Gloria Williams-King, and Freeston Simon; her grandchildren: Tisha, Akir, Elijah, Nya and isaiah; her daughter-in-law Jillian Brathwaite; as well as her nieces and nephews, cousins and godchildren, extended family, friends and loved ones who hold her dear. We are thankful for Keren Brathwaite’s life, and proud of her contributions to her family, friends, and community. She is now at rest, as she goes home to the Creator, and joins her ancestors.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Keren Brathwaite Education Award): an annual award for TYP students and alumni who exemplify the spirit of university access, equity, creativity, and innovation. (Specify fund #304925 in the comments section.)
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