Dr. Thomas Massiah told a library full of high school students that occupation doesn’t define a person and self-respect is something that no one can give or take away from them. This scientist, lecturer, author and community activist is a pillar of the black community.
Massiah spoke of his “journey through many adversities” as a black male growing up during the ’30s at an event hosted by Malvern Public Library in coordination with Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute on Feb. 11.
“I think it is important to hear life stories — it’s like walking history,” said Adele Lamphier, youth service specialist at the library.
Massiah was born in Montreal in the late ’20s as the fourth child to working-class parents.
The pinnacle moment of his life was seeing his father taken away in an ambulance.
“My father had been ill for about two years at that time and we didn’t know what was going to happen and death wasn’t something I was familiar with. The next day we got a phone call saying that my father had died,” he said.
His mother was left to raise six children in the midst of the Great Depression.
Massiah was a gifted child from a young age. He could read by the age of three and remained at the top of his class throughout school.
He said high school students are fortunate to attend school for free.
“I hid behind my hand everyday and hoped that the teacher didn’t see me because I didn’t have the fees,” Massiah said.
But by getting good grades, he managed to get bursaries to pay off school fees.
Massiah went on to Sir George Williams College, and received a degree in chemistry. He then taught at the university for 15 years.
In 1956, he earned a Masters in chemistry from McGill and in 1962, a Ph.D. from the University of Montreal.
Although black students have made strides in post-secondary institutions, Massiah said black female students are currently out-performing black male students.
“I hope that the black male students will, instead of pulling up their trousers, pull up their socks and really apply themselves,” Massiah said. “I do not think that most of the black male students are taking advantage of the opportunities. Nobody pushed me, I went after these things.”
Malvern library will be hosting Black History Month events every Saturday throughout February, including a drumming circle, a music circle and storytellers.