TORONTO — Shardaine Rowe Brown was always a Pascal Siakam fan. The 23-year-old played high school basketball and can speak with authority about the Toronto Raptors star's devastating spin move.
But now, after a pivotal summer made possible in part by Siakam's generosity and deepening Toronto roots, the second-year student at Toronto Metropolitan University's Lincoln Alexander School of Law sees "Spicy P" in a new light.
"I’m a big Raptors fan, I’m big on sports, so I knew he’s amazing, they don’t call him 'Spicy P' for no reason, his spin move is untouchable," she said at a reception recognizing Siakam’s contribution to the school which funded summer internships for her and 11 of her classmates. "But I didn't know about his foundation, so to know that he's actually interested in helping young people. I'm really happy about that."
For Siakam, using his PS43 Foundation to support TMU's fledgling law program — now beginning its third year — and its stated mission to "reimagine legal education in pursuit of a more just society" is part of his own growth. The raw rookie, who came from off the radar to carve a place in the Raptors rotation as an unheralded late first-round pick in 2016, is now 28 years old with training camp looming and coming off his second all-NBA season. Siakam will be relied on to help return the Raptors to Eastern Conference contention in their post-championship era.
As his responsibilities as one of the Raptors' leading scorers, playmakers and defenders have continually increased, Siakam has steadily grown his foundation, be it initiatives to provide much-needed computers to middle schools in some of Toronto’s under-serviced neighbourhoods or — in this case — empower future leaders to go out into the communities they live in and make changes on their own.
Siakam’s vision of the city he lives and works in has expanded well beyond the confines of Scotiabank Arena or the OVO Athletic Centre.
“I mean, this is year seven for me now," said Siakam, who visited with some of the internship recipients at a low-key, private reception on campus at TMU on Wednesday evening. "I'm growing as a person and feeling more and more part of our community.
"I think with the support that [the community] gave me it is only right that I give back. But it’s not only for that, it’s just who I am as a person and that’s the way my dad was. It just makes sense."
The opportunities created by Siakam’s donation helped the recipients make sense of the path they’ve chosen as well.
Rowe Brown chose law because she wants to become a social justice lawyer and provide support to communities of people who need advocacy but often struggle to overcome various hurdles — some of them due to the legal system — to reach their potential.
The challenge many law students face is that summer internships — which are crucial for young lawyers to gain experience, build contacts and polish resumes — outside the corporate environment are often unpaid, making for some difficult choices for students who have mounting tuition bills on one hand and a need to invest in their career on the other.
Siakam’s contribution is aimed at bridging that gap.
“It allowed me to do my internship without adding any financial anxiety," said Rowe Brown, who commutes to her downtown classes from Ajax, a bedroom community east of Toronto. "Mine was an [otherwise] unpaid position, so I was going to have to get a job otherwise because law school is expensive, and I don’t want to graduate with this crazy debt."
She worked at Justice for Children and Youth in downtown Toronto, an organization aimed at assisting youth under 18 and homeless youth under 25 with a range of potential legal challenges they face. Her duties involved outreach work at drop-ins in the downtown core, assisting more senior lawyers in court and legal research.
She finished the summer even more convinced of her chosen path and with a greater appreciation for what is involved.
“Working in the community is a whole different ball game than being in the classroom,” Rowe Brown said. “Everything is different when you’re actually living a day in the life; you see what it’s all about to actually be a lawyer, you know? It’s amazing to apply the theoretical things you learn in school to an actual work environment.
“It was amazing being in the trenches and being able to actually help people and make them smile. … It was scary at first, but like everything else, once you get more familiar with it, it got easier.”Pascal Siakam (back) meets with the 12 internship recipients at Toronto Metropolitan University's Lincoln Alexander School of Law. (Photo Credit: Toronto Metropolitan University)
It’s the kind of impact Siakam is excited to be making. He joins teammates Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes, who have also provided financial support to post-secondary students in the Toronto area.
It’s something that has only become more important to Siakam as his career has moved along and his charitable foundation has developed along with it. It’s about honouring his late father’s focus on education and supporting the community he’s called home for approaching a decade now.
“I think the more we grow and the more we do things, the more understanding we have about how we can help,” Siakam said. “We have a mission obviously, but we’re figuring out how to put everything together. At the end of the day, you know, those people are gonna go out and help work with organizations that help young children and make a better community and a better world for everyone.
“So, I think that it's all connected, it all makes sense."