Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size

#BlackExcellence: Meet OISE’s Black alumni making an impact locally and globally


Dionne Brand was the keynote speaker at U of T’s Black Graduation in 2018 and one of only 15 individuals to receive an honorary doctorate that same year. 

At one time, they were graduate students at OISE. Now, they’re using the knowledge and experiences they gained as students to make a difference in Toronto and around the world.

From TV personalities and distinguished authors to trailblazing politicians, learn about how some of OISE’s Black alumni are making a meaningful difference.

Zanana Akande (MEd)

Toronto native Zanana Akande has devoted her life’s work to fighting for equality and improving the social, economic, cultural and political status of women. It came as no surprise in 2018 when Toronto Mayor John Tory handed her the Key to the City – a recognition Akande attributes to the important work being done by Black and female community organizers.

A former teacher and principal, Akande entered politics in 1990 when she was elected to run provincially for the New Democratic Party, making history as the first Black woman in Ontario’s Legislation and Canada’s first Black female cabinet minister. Today, Akande continues to inspire others through her social and community activism.

Adam Benn (MEd)

During his time at OISE, Adam Benn was already making waves. As a frontline worker and manager of LGBT2SQ support programs, he was able to bring his love for teaching and shared identity to the LGBT2SQ community.

Since graduating, Benn continues to be actively involved in this role and with other LGBT2SQ community projects. He is part of a new Black Queer Mentorship Program called Melanin Lynx and volunteers with the People with AIDS Foundation, assisting with their Bike Rally fundraiser to raise money to support individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Toronto. As for what the future holds, Benn wants to stay focused on education through teaching or leading workshops in the community—and he’s not ruling out a doctorate degree.

Dionne Brand (MA)

Regarded as one of Canada’s most accomplished authors, Dionne Brand is a poet, social activist, documentarian who served as Toronto’s third Poet Laureate. Brand earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in 1975, and later completed her Master of Arts at OISE in 1989.

In 2018, she was the keynote speaker at U of T’s Black Graduation and one of only 15 individuals to receive an honorary doctorate from U of T that same year. Brand continues to inspire readers all over the world with her prolific words, exploring themes of gender, race, sexuality, feminism and social injustices. Her recent novel, Theory, was published in 2019 and received critical acclaim.

Awad Ibrahim (PhD)

‎In 1998, Awad Ibrahim obtained his PhD in Curriculum Theory and Educational Foundations from OISE and later joined the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. He has been professor since 2007.

Commonly known by his students as “Dr. Dre,” Ibrahim is a leading Canadian scholar whose research and numerous publications explore themes such as civic education, hip-hop, graffiti and critical youth studies. In 2013, he was honoured by the Sudenese-Canadian Association of Ottawa for his devotion and dedication to the Sudanese Community in Canada. Internationally, he has ongoing projects in Morocco, Sudan and the United States.

Chizoba Imoka (MEd)

No stranger to the hallways and classrooms of OISE, PhD student Chizoba Imoka graduated with her Master of Education in 2014 and has since enrolled in the Education Leadership and Policy doctoral program. Imoka is a junior fellow at Massey College and founder of Unveiling Africa, an organization for civic and community engagement among African youth which Imoka founded when she was just 19 years old.

Since then, she has been awarded several honours from the University of Toronto, including the Adel S. Sedra Distinguished Graduate Award, the Clarkson Laureate in Public Service – Massey College’s highest honour – and, most recently, the U of T African Scholars Award. In 2018, Imoka delivered the prestigious Hancock Lecture where she spoke about the realities of colonialism in education today.

Amanda Parris (MA)

By day, Amanda Parris is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC and Marvin’s Room on CBC Radio 2. By night, she writes weekly columns for CBC Arts and gets creative through writing plays and ideas for scripted TV shows. Parris, who studied sociology of education at OISE, was formerly an educator who created arts-based curriculum.

While she well known for her work with CBC, Parris is also a veteran community activist and has been involved in helping Toronto youth for over a decade. In 2006, she co-founded the award-winning Lost Lyrics organization that uses music, art and film to educate middle school students about violence and other options and opportunities in the city’s Jane and Finch and Malvern communities. In recent years, Parris co-hosted The Filmmakers which was nominated for a 2019 Canadian Screen Award for best talk or entertainment series. 

Henry Ssali (MA)

Master of Arts graduate Henry Ssali is regarded as an innovative leader with a passion for social justice and fairness both within a U of T and global context. In 2019, Ssali was nominated for the University of Toronto Student Leadership Award (then called the Cressy Award) for his exceptional service as the Executive Vice-President of the Leadership, Higher and Adult Education Departmental Students' Association.

Ssali is the founder of U of T's African Alumni Association which helped launch Refugee Awareness Week to educate the university community about immigrant issues. He is also the creator of The GOWN: African Scholars Awards, an ongoing and distinguished platform for acknowledging African excellence at U of T.

More OISE News

Black Girls Magazine: OISE PhD student inspired to make a difference

International visiting graduate student tackles barriers to STEM studies for black, minority students

OISE prof aims to make science more accessible for Black students