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Family, friends start campaign to create bursary in memory of late U of T law graduate

Jamal Akim Howlader remembered as kind, thoughtful, with passion for helping others
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Recent law graduate Jamal Akim Howlader. COURTESY OF DENNA POURMONAZAH JALILI
Recent law graduate Jamal Akim Howlader. COURTESY OF DENNA POURMONAZAH JALILI

After the unexpected and tragic death of Jamal Akim Howlader, a recent graduate from the U of T Faculty of Law, on November 5, friends and family have set up a fundraiser on GoFundMe to establish a bursary fund at the faculty in Howlader’s name. 

The bursary will be awarded on a basis of financial need and academic excellence to students who embody Howlader’s values. The campaign has raised almost $27,000 to date.

In an interview with The Varsity, Denna Pormonazah Jalili, the organizer of the fundraiser, said that though Howlader was a “very simple guy… the one thing that he did always value was his studies.” Jalili added that, given that Howlader was a recipient of financial aid from the Faculty of Law, he thought that a scholarship based on financial need would be an appropriate legacy.

Scholarship process and campaign

The Faculty of Law has a $25,000 minimum quota to establish any scholarship. Given that the campaign has reached that goal, the remainder of the money will now be invested in the university’s endowment to collect interest. The interest made from that amount will then be matched by the university every year and will be combined with the fundraised amount to form the bursary amount.

Jalili expressed shock at the amount of traction gained and money raised in just a few days, going far beyond the initial $5,000 goal. “The sort of thinking was [that], between his closest friends and family, we could conceivably piece together $5,000 a year… And we just blew past everything.”

When asked why he thought the campaign had gained so much attention, Jalili said the community had come together to honour someone who was positive and kind on a daily basis. Jalili noted that even the people Howlader didn’t know very well reached out to pay their respects. He decided to set up the fund when people began asking where they could donate on his behalf.

Most of the donations on the page contain at least a small note commemorating Howlader, but many are longer. They range from more personal notes from close friends to thoughtful comments from people who knew him in elementary or high school.

“I personally believe that you die twice in life: once when your physical body expires and once when you’re forgotten,” Jalili said. “If you live a good life, if you are a friendly person, if you care about people, if you show empathy to people, you don’t know what a little bit of empathy to you might be monumental [to] someone else.”

“If you take yourself out of your blinders… you will leave yourself a beautiful legacy, and that will outlast your time here.”

Scholarship recipients and goals

The criteria for the bursary will put a focus on financial aid and academic excellence, but there will also be a secondary criterion of mentorship and community involvement. Howlader used to tutor high school students in math through a mentorship program, a job that he took very seriously.

Howlader also provided low-income members of the community with free legal advice through Downtown Legal Services, a legal clinic affiliated with the Faculty of Law. “We want recipients to embody those characteristics of mentorship and community involvement,” said Jalili.

Jalili also emphasized the importance of offering opportunities to students who may not be in the best financial position. He noted that the high amount of debt that many law students have might push them toward areas of law that they are not necessarily as interested in. 

Howlader “was a big, big community guy,” Jalili concluded. “And so hopefully, whoever is helped by this payout… would want to do the same once they’re in a position to.”

In an email to The Varsity, the Faculty of Law wrote that “a donor’s decision to establish a needs-based bursary at the Faculty of Law ensures that tuition will not be a barrier to education or career.”