For York University alumni Ryan Fuentes (BSW ’17) and Jonatan Fuentes (BA ’14, BED’15, MEd ’20), growing up in Rexdale meant that a post-secondary education wasn’t the obvious path either would take. Although obtaining a degree wasn’t a certainty for either of them, both brothers graduated and now leverage their York education to help in uplifting, empowering and advocating for equitable education through their social justice platform Education on Trial. In addition to this joint venture, each have dedicated their careers – Ryan a social worker and Jonatan an educator with the Toronto District School Board and a Black student graduation coach for York Region District School Board – and their lives to the cause. Through consulting, speaking engagements and working with other individuals and organizations, they strive to educate and connect professionals, youth and families to a community of support.
Jonatan and Ryan founded Education on Trial in 2011 to help facilitate conversations about anti-racism and anti-oppression in education. Through speaking engagements, programming for youth, parents and the community, they have had difficult discussions of how marginalization is created and reproduced in society. Their drive to make change in their community and the world is not only necessary, but their passion to make things right is infectious and empowering.
Education on Trial grew from the Fuentes’ brothers’ experiences as Black men living in marginalized parts of Toronto – experiences that are unfortunately all too common. “Seeing that many of my peers had not made it to post-secondary, I very much felt their weight on my shoulders,” says Ryan.
But rather than weighing him down, the realities of his community surroundings and his lived experiences propelled and fueled him to strive for more than what was expected of him. Both brothers reminisce fondly on moments they spent at York’s Keele campus.
“You know, the second floor of Scott library? I would stand there in the middle thinking wow, I’m really here, it was just so inspiring,” says Jonatan.
But the brothers’ shared fondness for their time at York went far beyond the beautiful architecture on campus and leaned heavily towards the key relationships they each made. These connections helped to shape not only their educational career while at York but influenced their lives post-graduation as well.
“University was a transformative experience”, says Ryan. He remembers that “at first it was very intimidating, being in a post-secondary environment where there's not a lot of leaders that look like me.” But with the help of two guiding forces in his program, Ryan flourished as a student and eventually returned to York to complete his masters in Social Work. Carmen Perillo, an instructor in the School of Social Work, was instrumental in shaping Ryan’s experience of university, solidifying within himself that he belonged and that he could indeed succeed. Both Carmen and Maurice Poon, Director and Associate Professor of the School of Social work, were instrumental in shaping his career path and influential to Ryan, a fact he’s grateful for to this day.
Not unlike his brother, Jonatan made an important connection at York that he still holds dear to this day. His mentor, Faculty of Education Professor Carl James, was named senior advisor on equity and representation to the university as part of the Division of Equity earlier this year. “He has been inspiring and influential, connecting me to different resources that I wouldn't have otherwise to provide me with opportunities. And he continues to be a mentor even now that I'm done. So I’m really, really grateful for that relationship,” says Jonatan.
To learn more about Education on Trial, follow them on Instagram at @educationontrial.
Article republished from the York U Alumni & Friends Alumni Spotlight series.