A book to help empower young Black Canadians

This February, as Black History Month celebrations take place across North America, York University alumna Dawn Williams (BA ’84, MES ‘87) is busy spreading the word about her recently published second edition of Who’s Who in Black Canada.

Written and published by Williams, the directory is more than just a reference book. It is also an important tool that can help empower young Black Canadians, says Prof. Ibrahim Badr of the Department of French Studies in York’s Faculty of Arts.

"It puts together the different stories of success and excellence of Black people in Canada to give the younger generation a sense that they are not without history," says Badr. "It can raise awareness among young ethnic minorities that it is possible for them to achieve a lot of things in Canada other than the traditional stereotypes that are always linked to black careers, like entertainment and sports."

Badr is one of the 12 York faculty members profiled in Who’s Who in Black Canada 2. In total, almost 50 faculty, alumni and former students from York are included in the book. The directory contains information, arranged alphabetically, on 734 individuals. Chosen by a selection committee based on their accomplishments, they come from a variety of sectors, including academia; business; engineering and technology; government; media and medicine.

Among those included are: Wayne Adams, the first Black elected to the Nova Scotia legislature; youth activist Kehinde Bah, who has served on City of Toronto committees; and Governor General Michaelle Jean. About a third of the entrants are women, and the book also contains an In Memoriam section on prominent community members who have died the past 10 years. Click here to view a list of individuals affiliated with York University who are included in the second edition of the book.

Left: Dawn Williams

The book "grew out of a number of frustrations and observations," says Williams, who has always had an interest in her Black roots and further sought to examine them during her days at York. After completing a BA at Glendon, Williams went on to complete a master’s degree in international development from York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. "I was interested in understanding the dichotomy between developed and underdeveloped, first-world and third-world countries and wanted to learn more about my own personal history and background as a Black person," she says.

Williams then worked on development projects in Kenya, Mali and Botswana. In Africa she saw Blacks "in different positions throughout society". Visits back to Toronto were "a stark reminder that we say we embrace diversity, but I wasn’t seeing a lot of visible minorities in prominent positions," says the British-born, Canadian-raised Williams.

Her desire to address this inequity led her to devote a significant amount of her energy, time and even personal savings into producing Who’s Who in Black Canada. She felt writing and publishing such a book was the best way to raise the profile of the achievements of Black Canadians because we live in a society "where, when it’s not documented, you cannot claim credit for it."

Williams sees Black youth as the primary target readership of the book. The second is the larger Canadian society, which, Williams felt, "was not getting a good balanced overview of all the different domains in which Blacks are active, achieving and excelling." The third is Black professionals, who can use it for networking.

Some people Williams approached were reluctant to participate in the project because she was not a known writer. Others did not want to be seen as self-promoters while still others did not want to be included as they "prefer to be known just as Canadian or by their countries or provinces of origin," says Williams.

Right: Professor Ibrahim Badr

The first edition of Who’s Who in Black Canada, published in 2002, earned praise from reviewers in publications such as Professionally Speaking, the magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers; Choice, produced by the American Library Associations; and, CM magazine, an electronic journal based at the University of Manitoba.

The book’s success lent Williams and her project credibility and helped to pave the way for the second edition. It was launched last November at a reception in Toronto sponsored by TD Bank Financial Group and the Black Business and Professional Association . The event was attended by about 180 of the individuals profiled, including York’s Badr.

"It is a matter of pride for York that some of the graduates take on such enterprises that enhance the profile of York University within Canada and abroad," says Badr.

For more information about Who’s Who in Black Canada 2, visit www.wwibc.ca.

This article was written by Olena Wawryshyn, communications officer, Marketing & Communications.