Roxann Whittingham

Author, entrepreneur, graduation coach and community builder, Roxann Whittingham tirelessly works to ensure every Black child has access to a better and brighter future. Tenacious, ambitious, industrious and knowledge-hungry, Roxann has always been driven to achieve in the face of adversity.

Born in rural Jamaica, Roxann overcame obstacles and limitations to flourish. Literally sharing one pair of red shoes with her sister, life wasn’t easy for the two of them and their mother. It was often a difficult choice between who got to go to school, and Roxann would fuss until her mother would let her go, even if she went barefoot walking the miles to school, and often without money for lunch.

Roxann would tell herself, “You know what? If my tummy’s empty, I’m going to fill my head with knowledge.” She achieved just that. High school was the next goal. Growing up, spaces in high school were extremely limited, and only one in 10 or so would be eligible to attend, providing they excelled in an exam. Sports were a way to open the door, and Roxann refused to settle for “a very, very mediocre life without a high school degree.”

Roxann could not be stopped. College seemed impossible. A luxury beyond her humble world, Roxann was hungry for knowledge from an early age because she saw that the only way out of her lifestyle was to get a higher level of education. That burning desire for knowledge propelled her forward. She’s eternally grateful for the support of her church congregation which helped raise the funds for her spot in teachers’ college to continue the upward trajectory.

Immigrating to Canada was not an easy thing, but Roxann never gave up. There was a lot of culture shock, racism, and things to struggle through. Her credentials were not recognized in Canada, but that wouldn’t stop Roxann. She cleaned offices and homes, lived with friends, and worked tirelessly to make a better life. In Canada, Roxann would also be the target of racial attacks and prejudice, but she persevered. Roxann credits her mother for being an inspiration for everything that she’s accomplished in her life. Her mother was just as tenacious and fearless in working hard to make a better life for her daughters.

“If somebody tells me I can’t do something, I tend to work twice as hard to prove them wrong,” reflected Roxann. “As a Black person, you’re always having to prove yourself. And it’s not only for you, but almost like for your whole generation. I have to succeed so everyone can see that, hey, we are more than cooks, cleaners, nannies. All those things that we’re labelled.” Roxann worked without pause to create a better life for her family, and her thirst for knowledge never waned.

Roxann became a child and youth practitioner to help students build their self-esteem and find their path to a successful future,

An alumna of the Child and Youth Care program (class of 2020) and a former VP of Community Engagement for the Georgian College Students’ Association (GCSA) at the Orillia Campus, her passion for education led her to create a scholarship for Black students studying at Georgian in 2021. Roxann also started the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) Graduation Support Network group of Facebook, where community members can connect and work together to improve education for marginalized students.

In 2022, Roxann was honoured with the Multiculturalism through Education Award through the County of Simcoe Newcomer Awards program. The award recognizes an educator who consistently incorporates multiculturalism in planning and policy development, curriculum, community relations, and/or school culture.

Roxann currently is a graduation coach for Black students with the Simcoe County District School Board. In her role she connects students with community groups and organizations that help enhance their learning.

“Building a sense of belonging and fostering a culture of togetherness is critical in our communities,” Roxann says. “I love working with students every day, and I hope that I can encourage them to stay in school and pursue a rewarding future.”