Leadership, social awareness and professional achievement: these are the qualities the upcoming Black Alumni Awards will be recognizing, said to Shawn Knights, Vice President of Operations for the Black Students’ Association (BSA).
On October 15, the first ever Black Alumni Awards will be held in the main hall at Hart House. In addition to celebrating the achievements of black graduates of the University of Toronto, the Awards will commemorate the founding of the Black Alumni Association (BAA).
Furthermore, the goals of the BSA in holding this event go beyond recognizing the individual professional successes of Black Alumni at U of T. Kofi Hope, the BSA’s Vice President of Public Relations, said the Association wants to deliver a “message to the public that there has been a long presence of black students at U of T.” He hopes to dismiss any myths that the history of successful black students at the university has been a short one.
“If you walk the halls of Hart House,” he explains, “…all the faces look alike. There hasn’t been appreciation of the diversity of the University of Toronto.” Knights agrees with these sentiments. He recalls a conversation with an administrator on campus in which the administrator suggested that the first black student at U of T was in 1960, when in reality, black students have been graduating from the university since the 19th Century.
Knights said that the honourees are “being awarded for their social awareness and leadership skills.”
Rapper Subliminal, winner of the award for Arts and Culture, is an example of this dual achievement, said Knights, as he spends time-in addition to his musical career-going to schools encouraging students to get a post-secondary education. Both Hope and Knights also note that the event is a great opportunity for current students to network and gain contacts with the Alumni.
Another honouree is Leonard Braithwaite, the first black Member of Provincial Parliament in Canada and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Braithwaite received his degree in Commerce and Finance in 1950 and in 1964 worked to abolish an Ontario law that permitted segregation in schools. He emphasized the importance of integrating various races and ethnicities in the education system, stating that “university is supposed to be a place where many nationalities meet.” Upon learning that he would receive the award, Braithwaite said, “I was kind of surprised…and honoured.”
In addition, the late Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott will be honoured with the BSA Legacy Award, which is meant to recognize people who have achieved a lasting legacy. Abbott, who graduated from U of T in 1861, was not only the first Canadian-born black doctor, but also served during the US Civil War as one of the highest-ranking black officers in the Union army. Abbott’s great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter will be accepting the award on his behalf.
Since it is less than a year old, the BAA award winners were selected by a board which includes BSA executives. The BSA hopes to establish a special Alumni Committee for this purpose in the future.
The BSA is encouraging students to attend the event. Tickets are $25 for students, currently available through the BSA.