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

February 28, 2019

At one time, they were graduate students at OISE. Now, they’re using their knowledge and experiences to make a difference both here 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 an impact in our local and global communities.

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 she was handed the Key to the City by Toronto Mayor John Tory – a recognition which Akande attributed 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 be an inspiration through her social and community activism.

Adam Benn (MEd)

Throughout his time at OISE, Adam Benn was already making an impact. 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 as well as other LGBT2SQ community work. 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 would like to continue working in education through teaching or through workshops within 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 also a poet, social activist, documentarian, and served as Toronto’s third Poet Laureate. Brand earned her Bachelor’s degree from U of T in 1975, and later went on to complete her Master of Arts at OISE in 1989.

In 2018, she was the keynote speaker at U of T’s Black Graduation and was 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 works that explore themes such as gender, race, sexuality and feminism, and social injustices. Her latest fiction, Theory, was published last year and has received critical acclaim.

Awad Ibrahim (PhD)

‎In 1998, Awad Ibrahim obtained his PhD in Curriculum Theory/Educational Foundations from OISE and later went on to join the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, where he has been a 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 Imoke (MEd)

No stranger to the hallways and classrooms of OISE, PhD student Chizoba Imoka graduated with her Master of Education in 2014 and is now 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.

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 was keynote at the prestigious Hancock Lecture, drawing crowds to U of T Hart House where she gave an expert lecture on the realities of colonialism in education in present day.

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 wrote arts-based curriculum.

While she is most known for her work on 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. Most recently, Parris co-hosted The Filmmakers which has been nominated for a 2019 Canadian Screen Award for best talk or entertainment series. There is no telling where this dynamic TV and radio personality will go next.