Joan Canton Story By:
Dr. Anthony Robinson
any residents of Gainesville appreciate its strong sense of community and the various public resources available to its citizens, though not so many were present for the decades of strife and labor that earned these rights. One of the most significant organizations that brought around this change was The Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG). SWAG is a grassroots community-based organization that works to improve the living conditions, health, educational
opportunities, and quality of life in west Gainesville. The group was founded by a group of nine women in early 2010 in order to organize a movement that would bring political and societal attention to this underserved neighborhood. No one person was more significant to the formation and efficacy of SWAG than the late Joan Canton. SYNERGY spoke to Dorothy Benson, one of the original founders of SWAG, about Joan and her legacy. Joan was born in the West Indies, where she lived in a children’s home
before moving to Bronx, New York with her father and sister. Her experience in the children’s home inspired her lifelong-resolve to improve the lives of underprivileged children like herself. “Joan’s work in the community began long before SWAG formed. Over her lifetime, Joan took many young mothers and their children under her wing and helped them connect to housing, education, and better work paths.” She lived in Gainesville later in her life and raised her five children here. Ever the philanthropist, she didn’t stop with her own
children, she adopted and raised a Gainesville child in her home. Joan knew that more needed to be done to serve other families in need. “The neighborhood Joan called home had been historically overlooked and underserved, and they needed and deserved better supports and resources.” In order to address this issue, Joan, Dorothy, and seven other concerned citizens founded SWAG in February of 2010. The organization was extremely successful, and in June 2012, they opened the SWAG Family Resource Center.