Francis Atta, who graduated from the Child and Youth Worker program in 2012, had a tougher path to graduation than most. One of 14 children, during his first year at George Brown, he had to live in a homeless shelter because there wasn’t enough room at home.
Born in Ghana, Francis grew up in Jane-Finch area of Toronto, raised by a single father. “In high school I was not a great student - my only focus was basketball,” he remembers. “My only ambition was to make it to the NBA, but that dream died when I injured my knee, and I started hanging out with the wrong people.”
Francis made the decision to take control of his life when he saw local youth making the same mistakes he had. “In my community, a lot of kids play basketball or sell drugs because they feel that's the only way out,” he says. “I thought by going to college, I could motivate them.”
Francis says his time at the college is what gave him the practical tools he needed to make a difference. “I entered George Brown at 22 and it was the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” he laughs. “But I worked really hard and took advantage of all the resources the college had to offer.”
Now Francis aims to help other young people succeed. His book, The Flip, takes the innovative approach of being both for youth and their parents. Open it one way and it offers inspiration to his younger audience – then ‘flip’ it and Francis has advice for parents on how to improve their relationships with their kids, an essential ingredient for them to thrive.
To build on the support he provides to homeless youth through his work with Covenant House and the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Francis formed KEYS (Knowledge & Effort Yields Success), an organization which conducts motivational workshops and discussion groups at schools, shelters and community centres across the GTA. He has achieved widespread recognition for his efforts. The recipient of an Urban Hero award in 2010, Francis was named one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants in 2012, and he was nominated for a prestigious Premier’s Award in 2013.
Francis relies on social media in order to reach as many young people as possible, and says the highlight of his working day is when they get in touch to thank him for turning their lives around. “I go to a lot of graduations,” he says. “When you help other people reach their goals - it’s the best feeling.”