When Elaine Robinson first arrived in Canada over 45 years ago, she did not know she was on a path toward realizing her social purpose.
Early life was a challenge as she started a family in her younger years. “On my 16th birthday, I gave birth to my first child. By age 22, I had a second one and I was married.”
As life went on, Elaine and her husband wanted to raise their children in a comfortable space. “We ended up getting government housing,” says Elaine on a decision that she had no idea would teach her about social issues and a need for change.
“In doing so, I learned a lot about myself. I always used to hear about housing, but I never knew it, I never even understood it. All I know is when I saw people in those places they looked like they were having lots of fun.”
Living in government housing gave Elaine a deeper understanding as she learned of how others saw people like her, who lived in places like government housing communities. This was a point which urged her to get involved in the community.
“I got involved in community work. It started with a dance group,” says Elaine, as she loved dancing, and she thought it was a great start towards shaping the community.
Keeping up as an active member of the community, Elaine was just beginning her mission. She notes that she is able to keep going due to all of the supportive people around her.
“I am fortunate to be surrounded by so many good women that have assisted me in my growth,” adds Elaine, noting that all of the women she has met so far during her journey are still integral parts of her life.
But of all the inspirational women in her life, one sticks out greatly to her. And that is the incredible Jean Augustine. “I first met Ms. Jean Augustine when I think I was 23 years old, that’s when she used to be the chairperson for Toronto Housing.” That meeting with Jean sparked a relationship that Elaine always continues to cherish.
“And she [Jean] has remained authentic throughout my journey,” adds Elaine. “She never makes me feel less than.” One special aspect Elaine admires from Jean Augustine is her early struggle as an immigrant woman, and then her growth into the successful woman she is today.
Stories like those of Jean Augustine and Elaine’s own experiences slowly guided her towards wanting to change the stigmas surrounding the word ‘ghetto’. “The word ghetto for me always drove me crazy,” she says. “They always made the ghetto, as they call it, look like such a bad place.”
After attending an excursion in Atlanta, Georgia, Elaine knew she was not the only one who thought the word ghetto connoted a negative meaning. During the excursion, she learned a new way of defining G.H.E.T.T.O: Getting Higher Education To Teach Others.
But Elaine notes that it took a lot more than just the acronym to get started. “For years I did nothing with it. About four years ago I registered that name.” After realizing the purpose of the acronym she wanted to use it as a tool so that others can share their personal stories of dealing with the stigmatized word.
“Behind it is to tell the authentic stories of people who’ve overcome impossible odds,” states Elaine. “Because the ghetto is not a place, it is a state of mind.” She plans on sharing these stories through live interviews streamed on Facebook, providing an interactive platform for others to view and interact with the interviewees.
She is also just getting started on building a strong community network. “I’m partnering up with different community agencies,” says Elaine, as she can make contacts and build a strong reputation. “I just want to do authentic community work.”
“My mission is to redefine how we, as a people, as a community, as a world, see and understand that world, and also how we see and treat the people that come from those places.”