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‘You plant a seed and you never know what it will lead to’

Clothilda (Claire) Clifton-Newton, BA 77, a retired social worker and community organizer, credits Concordia for her family’s success
January 31, 2020
By Ian Harrison, BComm 00

Hear why Clothilda Clifton-Newton credits Concordia with her family’s success.

Clothilda Clifton was a week from her twenty-first birthday when she landed in Montreal from Trinidad and Tobago. It was late November 1968.

Her new life began in Côte-des-Neiges, a neighbourhood popular with West Indian immigrants, and at Montreal High, where she went to complete her secondary schooling.

When a neighbour encouraged Clifton to apply to university as a mature student, her life took a decisive turn.

“If not for Concordia, I would have stayed at the same level of education and employment,” she says.

Clifton soon met an ambitious young man, Kelvin Newton, who had been a teacher in Trinidad and Tobago. Marriage followed and she became Claire Clifton-Newton. The newlyweds enrolled as full-time students at Concordia; Clifton-Newton received her BA (applied social sciences) in 1977 and Newton his BComm (accountancy) the same year.

The couple was a fixture at the offices of the Caribbean Students Union.

Claire Clifton-Newton and Kelvin Newton Clothilda Clifton-Newton and Kelvin Newton were active members of Concordia’s Caribbean Students Union in the late 1970s.

“[The CSU] was very strong at that time,” says Clifton-Newton. “Lasting friendships were created. We held a reunion at our house not too long ago and former members came from all over — even overseas.”

Notable guests at the reunion included Concordia luminaries Roland Wills, former associate dean, Commerce and Administration, and Dorothy Wills, LLD 89.

By the time Clifton-Newton entered McGill’s social work program, her first child, Aisha, was six months old. The subsequent news that Clifton-Newton was pregnant with twins and needed bedrest did not deter her — she graduated with her second bachelor’s in 1980. She then stayed home to raise Aisha and twins Akilah and Omari while Kelvin worked in accounting.

Clifton-Newton eventually returned to the workforce at what became Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, the government-funded child and family welfare agency. While the work could be stressful and difficult, the job came with rewards, too.

Clifton-Newton organized an annual show at Batshaw that showcased the talents of black youth, many of whom affectionately called her “Auntie Claire.”

“Claire’s a fearless and staunch advocate for equity, recognition and celebration of black professionals,” says Varda Mann-Feder, professor of applied human sciences at Concordia.

“She worked for many years as a child protection worker and became a trainer of other workers. I always admired her tirelessness, forthrightness and ability to take on difficult issues.​”

Omari Newton Omari Newton graduated from Concordia in 2006.

Omari Newton, BA 06 (comm. studies), a Vancouver-based actor, thoughtful op-ed writer and playwright (his musical Black and Blue Matters will premiere at Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop in 2020), co-hosted the annual talent extravaganzas at Batshaw with his mother.

Her work ethic, whether at Batshaw or McGill University, where she completed her Master of Social Work in 1997, had an impact on him as a boy.

“My mom’s an incredible role model,” he says. “I just remember her constantly working. She encouraged us to dream big.”

Omari says his parents made education paramount and supported his passion for activism and the arts.

“Our family library was basically a historical [survey] of black civil rights books. I grew up with Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on IceThe Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

Akilah Newton graduated from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, a school co-founded by Paul McCartney in the U.K. As the founder and executive director of the non-profit Overture with the Arts, she helps ensure access to arts education for children.

She also co-authored Big Dreamers: The Canadian Black History Activity Book for Kids and, with Omari, talks to schoolchildren for Black History Month about topics such as systemic racism and the accomplishments of remarkable Black Canadians.

Clifton-Newton, who hopes to complete and publish a memoir entitled A House Divided: Social Work in Black and White, is resolute when she reflects on her own family’s accomplishments.

“Had it not been for Concordia, I would not have achieved as much as I did. It cemented my family’s legacy. You plant a seed and you never know what it will lead to.”

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