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Jack Layton School launches

By Will Sloan

Jack Layton

Twenty-three students took part in the inaugural program, which ran July 7-11.

Before he was a Toronto city councillor, head of the federal NDP, and leader of the opposition in parliament, Jack Layton was a professor in the Ryerson Department of Politics and Public Administration. To honour his life, Ryerson this month launched an intensive one-week program to prepare the next generation of progressive leaders.

The Jack Layton School for Youth Leadership aims to enhance leadership capacity of politically engaged students through network, skill and knowledge building. Running July 7-11 the inaugural program attracted 21 youth participants (18-29) from the labour movement and a range of advocacy organizations. Participants came from Montreal, Hamilton, Sudbury, Guelph, Brockville and across the GTA, and the week's programs included Making Political Change, Making Your Own Media, Youth and Unions, and Continuing Jack's Legacy.

“Jack Layton loved teaching and it’s a natural fit for Ryerson to promote youth engagement that mattered so much to him,” said politics professor Myer Siemiatycki, the first Jack Layton Chair. “Certainly in his letter to Canadians just before his passing, he made special reference to the inspiration he drew from young people.

“I thought this was a particular contribution that Ryerson could make as a post-secondary institution, a place where young people come to learn applied, socially useful skills.”

Participants of this non-credit program described it as an enriching experience. “The Jack Layton school was an amazing experience, packed with great workshops and invaluable lessons for young and aspiring activists and community leaders,” said Alison Read of the Toronto Youth Cabinet. 

Ryerson established the Jack Layton Chair in 2012, less than a year after Layton’s death from cancer; events and initiatives launched under its auspices have included internships, the Jack Layton Lecture, and a book group focused on Layton’s private library. Siemiatycki organized the inaugural Layton School program with Faculty of Arts Distinguished Visiting Practitioner Cathy Crow. All are intended to continue its namesake’s progressive legacy.

“Jack was among the earliest champions of justice for sexual orientation, aboriginals, the poor and the environment – a real vision of a society and a world that could be more caring, more supportive of the needs of others,” said Siemiatycki.

“Jack had a very powerful ethical compass, and he had a very acute sense of right and wrong. In some respects, it’s as basic and simple as that, and therefore as wide-ranging and ambitious as that.”

Future programs of the Jack Layton School are being planned