How Halston Canty Found His Purpose

Syracuse resident Halston Canty is dedicated to empowering youth through community outreach.

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Syracuse resident Halston Canty inspires children's creativity just like the children who created this mosaic wall at the Southwest Community Center.

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In just one year, Halston Canty, Family Case Studies manager, has immersed himself into the lives of the children at the Southwest community center in Syracuse. He tried several different jobs positions before he found his purpose helping kids. Through his new position, he is able to do outreach in a community that experiences a high concentration of Black poverty. 

“I want to be a great mentor and show that there are positive people in the community who want to help them,” Canty said. I’m not perfect but I don’t ever want them to feel like they have to be, but they should know the difference between right and wrong.”

Born in Miami, FL, Canty was initially raised by his grandmother, Daphne Dillon, because his parent’s couldn’t  provide proper care. But when he turned 5 years old he was sent to live with his parents, Hedda and Hezekiah Canty in South Syracuse.

He remembers flying on a plane alone sitting next to a strange older man, and holding a chicken sandwich.

He also remembers weekend trips to Disney World with Hallie, as she calls him and the meals she would cook for him, everything from mashed potatoes to original Jamaican style cooking. “I would make him everything, curry chicken, fried dumplings, cod fish, rice and peas and some dessert,” she said in her Jamaican accent and floral vest.

He stayed connected to his grandmother by spending summers with her. She called him one of the best-dressed boys she had ever seen. “We used to say, ‘Go Hallie, Go Hallie,’ when he dressed up,” she said while laughing.

In Syracuse, he grew up between Newell St and Midland Ave., attending schools within the Southside community. He attended Corcoran High School, where he played a variety of sports, and had a fondness for Marvel comic books.

Canty avoided the gangs, violence and drugs that plagued  South Syracuse, and he quietly dealt with his father’s alcoholism. His father died in 2013 from liver cancer. He said it was a hard time for him as he watched his father whither away.

“I never really spoke about his passing,” Canty said. “Watching his weight go from 240 to 190 was hurtful. I felt like he just left me behind because I wanted to speak to him so bad and tell him I loved him.”

After graduation in 2000, Canty followed in the footsteps of his father and joined the Navy. He completed four years, ending his career as a Machinist’s Mate Grade 2. It took him a while to get acclimated back into society.

“This was the time where I had to become a man. I had to learn how to look for jobs, how to do interviews. I had to find out who I was as a person,” Canty said. 

After leaving the Navy, he was accepted to William Patterson University in New Jersey. He transferred to SUNY Albany after one semester to be closer to home, graduating with a B.A. in Rhetoric and Communications and a minor in acting.

He tried his hand at theater doing a stint at the Acting Movement Studio in New York City. To earn his keep, during the day he worked there handling all administrative duties–phone calls and answering emails.

Canty tried to pursue his other dream of being a musician. He moved back to Florida to make music with a friend, but that career didn’t flourish the way he had planned either.

Canty ended up back in Syracuse working for a temp agency selling insurance, and that’s when everything changed. 

While at the Southwest Community Center on South Ave., Canty met Valerie Hill, Community Services Director. He only intended to renew their insurance policy but left with a friendship and an opportunity to give back to his community.

Hill recommended Canty for a position as program facilitator for a boy’s youth program, Journey to Manhood. The program focuses on training young boys into men through self-acceptance and with guidance. He taught the young boys about the dynamics of society and how the world views them.

Canty explains the importance of reading to Marcine Bussey, 6 in the reading room at Syracuse southwest community center

Canty explains the importance of reading to Marcine Bussey, 6 in the reading room at the Southwest Community Center.

“It’s important you know how the world views you, and it’s up to you to either fall in line with those stereotypes or change the dynamics of what’s going on in our culture and with ourselves and strive for greatness,” Canty said.

Canty had never worked with kids before, but he taught the discipline and structure,which he learned from the military. With mentorship from Hill and friend and coworker, George Lynch he also grew into a role model.

Canty grew into the position and quickly noticed a change in the children at the Southwest Community Center. He understood that positivity begets more positivity. Using his position, he taught boys  how to be young men, informing them of the dynamics of society and how the world views them.

“I love the kids. They allow me to continue my journey of being a positive pillar in the community. Working here changed my life; it helps giving back to your community, not financially but through knowledge,” Canty said.

He’s still committed to learning.

He is now enrolled in graduate level social work classes at Falk College at Syracuse University. He hopes to eventually start his own mental health practice to help youth and veterans in the inner city. 

“Social work is heavily needed,” Canty said. “We are needed because we are trained and know how to go into these communities and deal with different types of people. “

Halston Canty continues to be a positive pillar in the Southwest community center, in addition to making socially conscious music.

“I have to do my part as a human being and try to help those who I can,” he said.


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