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Viola Desmond Awards & Bursary Program

An illustration of a diverse group of Black identified women.

The annual Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Program celebrates the outstanding achievements of Black women who in their roles as students, staff, faculty and alumni, demonstrate that they are positive role models and advocates of the Black/African-Canadian community.

The theme of the 15th Annual Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Ceremony was legacy

This year’s Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Ceremony was held on March 20, 2023. 

This year marked the 15th anniversary of the Viola Desmond Awards Ceremony, an annual celebration of Black women, past and present, and their powerful contributions that made a difference. In commemoration of a milestone anniversary, the theme of the most recents Viola Desmond Awards Ceremony was legacy. The Awards recognized the self-determination, resistance, leadership, joy and legacies of Black women across generations.

2023 award and bursary recipients 

TMU faculty award
Dr. Rai Reece

TMU staff award
Crystal Mark

TMU alumni award
Marsha Brown

Sidney & Mettelia Ferguson student award
Georgiana Mathurin

High school student award
Jeya Nkrumah

Denise O'Neil Green student leadership award
Flesticiah Amoah
Jama Seham

TMU student bursary
Naomi Addai
Tahja Burnett-Ffrench
Kelly Cameron
Jayde James

2023 honourees 

Sandra Ferguson
Patricia DeGuire
Tanitiã Munroe
Keisha Evans

Special Acknowledgments

Honorary patron award
Dr. Pamela Appelt

Visionary recognition 
Darrell Bowden

Advocate recognition
Jeff Perera


Learn more about the 2023 award honourees and recipients

Award recipients

Dr. Rai Reece is an assistant professor in the department of Sociology at Toronto Metropolitan University. She teaches and has published in the areas of Black feminist thought, ‘race’ and racism, social justice, abolition and anti-Black racism. Her work also explores how community-based ethnographic pedagogy can be a tool for social activism as well as a contested field of praxis. Dr. Reece is passionate about community-based collaboration and has conducted numerous anti-racism facilitations with organizations at the municipal, provincial and federal level. She teaches and researches from a place of healing that centers liberatory anti-colonial and anti-racist pedagogies as a way to deeply reflect and hold space for personal, interpersonal and collective care for ourselves and our communities. Her most recent work, a chapter titled ‘Black and Racialized Women in the Canadian Criminal Justice System’ (2023) is the first time a chapter focusing on Black and racialized women in the Canadian criminal justice system will be featured in the textbook Women and the Canadian Criminal Justice System (Third edition). In 2020, Dr. Reece was honoured as one of the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women, and in 2022 she was the recipient of the TMU Faculty of Arts New Faculty Teaching Award.

Rai Reece

Crystal Mark is a poet, writer, equity educator, and community engagement and development specialist with almost 20 years of experience. She serves as Chair of the Board of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, and is also an anti-racist writer, speaker and facilitator on human rights and community issues who is passionate about solidarity between Black and Indigenous people. Crystal successfully mobilized 500+ women and their families to co-found Malton Moms, an advocacy group that is celebrating 15 years of community service and activism. Crystal also works at Toronto Metropolitan University in the Office of Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion as an Educational Consultant. A first-generation Canadian born to Grenadian immigrants, Crystal sees her equity work as an extension of her ancestral teachings and legacy, and relates it to the continued struggles that racialized and marginalized groups face. Crystal was named one of CBC’s Herstory in Black 150 in 2017. In 2020, she was also awarded the Women Who Rock Award, featuring Hamilton changemakers.

Crystal Mark

Marsha Brown is a social justice advocate who has spent 25 years in the non-profit sector. She has leveraged her expertise in supporting asylum seekers, tackling domestic violence and inadequate housing, and providing employability training to marginalized youth. A champion for equity, Marsha’s passion for justice informs her work with nonprofits and vulnerable individuals. She is currently Vice-President of the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women's Empowerment, an organization known for its commitment to building self-esteem and self-worth among young women and girls. She is also the Vice-President of Community Outreach for the Junior League Toronto, an organization committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities. Additionally, she serves as Director of Communication and Public Relations for the UMOJA Black Social Workers Association. A proud alumna of TMU, Marsha lends her experience to a range of campus activities, and established the Women Champions of Diversity Award in 2019, for students engaged in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion. She has received the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service in 2021 from the Government of Jamaica for her work with Food for the Poor Canada; the G. Raymond Chang Outstanding Volunteer Award, 2018 and was recognized as a 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Woman in 2015.

Marsha Brown

Georgiana Mathurin is currently a graduate student in the Master of Arts, Immigration and Settlement Studies program at Toronto Metropolitan University. In 2022, she completed her master’s degree in Early Childhood Studies from TMU, where her thesis explored how the Canadian immigration system contributes to legal violence against Black mothers with precarious  migration status, creating uncertainty and separation of Black families, that leads to the punishment of Black children through detention, deportation and the child welfare system. Previously, Georgiana earned a diploma and undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education at George Brown College, where she is also a contract lecturer. She is a Registered Early Childhood Educator who has practiced in a Greater Toronto Area childcare centre for ten years with various age groups. She has worked with faculty members from George Brown College and TMU on multiple research and policy projects, such as revising Nova Scotia’s Early Learning Framework and Educator’s Guide. Georgiana continues to help communities and grassroots organizations by planning events and attending various meetings to address social and racial issues in the Black community.

Georgiana Mathurin

Jeya Nkrumah is a senior student at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy. She plans to attend York University in the fall to major in Theatre Arts with a double minor in Communications and International Humanities. Throughout her high school years, Jeya has prioritized community involvement along with academic success. She is currently a member of multiple councils in her school, including the African Caribbean Club, Student Leaders at McGivney, Student Athletic Council, Peer Mentorship and Voices Of McGivney. She has also participated in many significant projects and events, such as the Race With Me Virtual Challenge by Andre De Grasse. Jeya is passionate about giving back to her community, creating opportunities and breaking down barriers for all young people of colour. With her compassion and desire to pave the way for others, Jeya hopes to set an example for the young Black women who come after her.

Jeya Nkrumah

Flesticiah Amoah is a fourth-year social work student at Toronto Metropolitan University. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work with the goal of building a career in the mental health sector and working with marginalized communities. Flesticiah is  passionate about becoming an agent of social change by creating inclusive policy changes that will positively impact those who are often overlooked. She is an active member of her community and is involved with facilitating mental health workshops and programs for youth. She is also the founder of a non-profit organization that provides marginalized communities with a safe space to explore and heal from the impacts of intergenerational trauma.


Flesticiah Amoah

Bursary recipients

Naomi Addai is a 4th year Politics and Governance student at Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a passionate community advocate, having worked alongside local community organizations such as One Voice One Team, Nobellum, and the Peel District School Board's "We Rise Together" initiative. On campus, she has twice been a member of the Toronto Metropolitan University Presidential Implementation Committee to Confront Anti-Black Racism, where she worked alongside students as well as faculty in the Office of the Vice President, Equity and Community Inclusion to address anti-Black racism on campus. Most notably, Naomi presented a keynote TEDx talk entitled How to Live When We’re Dying, an ode to community self-preservation in an era of injustice. Upon graduation, she hopes to utilize her skills in politics, public speaking and community development to advance   Black, Caribbean and African communities in Canada.

Naomi Addai

Tahja Burnett-Ffrench is a fourth-year nursing student at TMU. After completing her placement at a Black health focused community health centre, her passion for bettering the health and wellness of African, Caribbean and Black communities was strengthened. Following the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, Tahja realized that society needs to take action to better support Black health. She was also struck by health inequities in the Canadian healthcare system that were brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Black woman of Caribbean descent and future registered nurse, Tahja hopes to affect positive change with her credentials and lived experience. Her goal is to combine nursing and social entrepreneurship to better the health outcomes of African, Caribbean and Black communities through fitness, nutrition and mental wellness, primarily focusing on young black girls and women in Canada. She believes that preventive health strategies must be implemented for better health outcomes and to address the many chronic illnesses that disproportionately impact the community.

Tahja Burnett- Ffrench

Kelly Cameron is a 3rd year part-time student in the Midwifery Education Program at Toronto Metropolitan University. The importance of community and interconnectedness fuels her midwifery journey. She aims to be an educator, supporter and source of community for birthing parents, particularly from African, Caribbean and Black communities. Kelly is passionate about equipping the next generation of midwives and other health professionals to provide equitable healthcare for Black birthing families. She is the student project coordinator for the development of MWF 508 Black Birthing and Health Equity, a new open elective course launching in Winter 2024 within the TMU Midwifery Education Program. The course explores health equity for Black birthing individuals and increases students’ knowledge of anti-Black racism as a social determinant of health. Kelly is a student member of the Racial Equity Committee of the Association of Ontario Midwives (AOM), where she helps amplify the voices of racialized midwifery students and midwives, promote racial justice and dismantle racism in midwifery.

Kelly Cameron

Jayde James is a student at TMU’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law. She holds an undergraduate degree in criminology and social justice, and is the first member of her family to complete a master’s degree and pursue a Juris Doctor degree. Jayde hopes to pursue a career in corporate or commercial litigation as well as health law. Her lived experiences as a Black woman fuel her compassion, drive and sense of purpose towards law. She has a passion for fighting systemic injustice, and aims to help reform the criminal justice system so that it works for all and is accessible to all, regardless of racial disparities and the ability to retain effective counsel. Her goal is to transform the system from being offender-focused to victim-centered and trauma-informed. Through her practice, Jayde hopes to serve as a role model for other Black women considering a law career.

Jayde James


Patricia DeGuire is a Black woman who pushes boundaries to ensure access to justice, equality, and equity and is dedicated to public service. Before being appointed Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in August 2021, Patricia served as a Deputy Judge with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, on various tribunals and boards, and is known as an impactful mediator. She has played a leading role in many equity organizations, particularly related to racism, anti-Black racism, gender equality and equity, and the wellbeing of youths. She is a constitutional law scholar, and an avid mentor and coach for young people and adults in several professions.

Patricia Deguire

Sandra Ferguson immigrated from to Canada from Jamaica at a very young age. Through her parent's example, she developed a better understanding of service and advocacy for her community. She recognized the need for systemic change within the existing framework of mental health delivery. 

Sandra has sat on the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board, Trillium Hospital Community Board and the Ontario Immigrant and Visible Minorities Women’s Organization (OIVM). She has engaged in consultations and community partnerships with NGOs in Jamaica around issues of housing and mental health in the Caribbean. 

Throughout these experiences and more, Sandra has shown leadership in promoting mental health awareness to reduce stigma in mental health and wellness. 

As an owner and operator of several residential care homes for individuals who are marginalized by poverty and recovering from mental illness and addictions, Sandra has been committed to identifying, preventing and removing barriers that impede the lives of people with mental health issues. Throughout the years, Sandra and her family have received accolades from all three levels of government for their continued work in community building.

Sandra Fergum

Tanitiã Munroe is a Black Queer scholar-activist and researcher with degrees in education and child and youth care practice. She is pursuing a PhD in Adult Education and Community Development with a collaborative specialization in Educational Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Her scholarship and research are focused on the education experiences of African, Afro-Caribbean and Black diasporic youth and their families in Canada using an anti-colonial, critical race and Queer Black feminist theorizing. Tanitiã has published and otherwise disseminated on issues and themes related to Canadian K-12 education policies, Black youth and their families’ experience engaging with Canadian schools and access to postsecondary education for Black 2SLGBTQ+ young people. Over the years, Tanitiã has been professionally engaged with young people in education and community settings, the youth criminal justice system and through community outreach initiatives in various countries. She has been honoured and recognized for her community work with Black 2SLGBTQ+ youth in the areas of health and wellbeing, research, education and advocacy. Tanitiã is a Senior Research Coordinator at Toronto District School Board where she continues to reimagine education research by centring student voices.

Tanitia Munroe

Keisha Evans is an equity, diversity and inclusion consultant who is currently completing her master’s in social work.  As an educator and Graduation Coach for Black Students, Keisha believes in the power of education through collaborative partnership with families and communities using an intersectional approach to elevate lives of Black students in both school and community.

She is the founder of KAME Consulting. A consulting company that works with non-profit and community-based organizations to support them with implementing best practices using an equity-based approach.

Keisha is also a published author. She has written books for children and youth. Keisha believes in developing Black girls' identities through literacy development and has created a Black girl's book club.  She has contributed her scholarship to academic journals and her work with Black students has been featured in various media outlets, including the CBC.

Keisha Evans

Special Acknowledgments

Pamela Appelt has built exceptional professional, artistic, and community leadership legacies. In 1987, she became the first female Afro-Canadian to serve as a judge of the Court of Canadian Citizenship.

Dr. Appelt has been an active volunteer with the Christian Women’s Club, the Ontario Black History Society, the former Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, and the Canadian Multiculturalism Council. She is a founding member of the Black Business and Professional Association, the Black-Jewish dialogue program of B’Nai Brith Canada, and the Harry Jerome Awards and Scholarship Fund. She has served on the boards of organizations including United Way of Greater Toronto, the Community Foundation of Oakville, the Yee Hong Geriatric Centre, and the Healthy Community Funders of Halton.

She has been an advisor to the president of Northern Caribbean University and a patron of the Project for Advancement of Childhood Education and the Viola Desmond Awards at Toronto Metropolitan University.

Dr. Appelt has been vice-chair of the Harbourfront Corporation in Toronto and a member of the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development, the former Harmony Movement of Canada, the advisory board of the Institute of Public Policy and Religion in Washington, D.C. and the Institute of Jamaica.

She has been included in Who’s Who in Black Canada, listed as one of the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women, and named by Zoomer Magazine as one of the 45 Over 45 Distinguished Canadians.

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Darrell is an equity, diversity and inclusion social justice educator with over twenty-five years of experience working in higher education. He is skilled in program development and delivery in non-profit organizations, including career development, coaching, and diversity and social justice education and awareness. He helped start the Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Program and Ceremony at Toronto Metropolitan University and chaired the initiative for 14 years. And in 2018, he managed the White Privilege Conference at Toronto Metropolitan University, the first time in twenty years that the conference had been held outside of the United States. Throughout his career, Darrell has made significant contributions to the Black community, highlighted the issues of First Nation communities, and championed for greater accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Darrell Bowden


The OVPECI would like to thank and acknowledge the ongoing support from our donors, sponsors and organizing committee! Special acknowledgements are given to Juannittah Kamera, Jermaine Bagnall, Marsha Brown, Dr. Catherine Ellis, Shurla Charles-Forbes, Selwyn Richards, Joan Pierre, Nikki Waheed and Nicole Waldron for their sustained and tremendous support of the Awards.


The OVPECI is pleased to recognize the generosity of donors who have made a gift between March 2022 to March 2023:

  • ​​Ms. Barbara Chambers
  • Dr. Alicia Hussain-Issari
  • Dr. Anna Triandafyllidou
  • Dr. Beverly-Jean Daniel
  • Dr. Karline Wilson-Mitchell
  • Dr. Kathleen Kellett
  • Dr. Marni Binder
  • Dr. Michael Dewson & Ms. Ann Atkey
  • Dr. Nadya Burton
  • Dr. Pamela Appelt
  • Dr. Wendy Freeman
  • Ms. Eunice Graham
  • Ms. Linda McLaren
  • Mr. Michael Tynes
  • Mr. Colin Cyrus-Gibbons & Ms. Jenny Gumbs
  • Mr. Darrell Bowden
  • Mr. Ross Mutton
  • Mrs. Adrianne Kenmir
  • Ms. Andrea Ridgley
  • Ms. Betty Ann Thibodeau
  • Ms. Dianne Norman
  • Ms. Erika Williams
  • Ms. Jastej Gill
  • Ms. Kathy Peter
  • Ms. Leanne Sachs
  • Ms. Leonie Thelwell
  • Ms. Marsha Brown
  • Ms. Rachel Barreca
  • Ms. Rudo Mataure
  • Ms. Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore
  • Ndija Anderson
  • Ms. Paulette Kelly
  • Ms. Sandra Ferguson
  • The Hon. Jean Augustine
  • Mrs. Tonya Wray
  • Ms. Marcelle Mullings
  • Mr. Trevor Massey
  • Mr. Earl Smith
  • Ms. Dauna Jones-Simmonds
  • Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP

About the sponsors of the Sidney and Mettelia Ferguson student award 

Sidney and Mettelia Ferguson came to Canada from Jamaica in 1969, accompanied by their three children. At the time of their passing (2016 and 2020), Sidney and Mettelia had dedicated over 40 years to strengthening psychiatric and mental health support in Toronto. They owned six special care homes and helped hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals across  cultural, socio-economic and racial backgrounds by preventing, identifying and removing barriers faced by individuals navigating mental illness. They were pioneers in de-institutionalizing patients with mental illness and supporting their reintegration into the  wider community. 

Sidney and Mettelia are examples of changemakers who had limited means, navigated racism and discrimination, but with faith and tenacity, strived to continuously service and enrich the community.

Organizing committee

The 2023 Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Program was organized by the Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Committee.  The Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion would like to acknowledge the enthusiasm, expertise and efforts that the committee put forth to help keep Viola’s legacy alive for generations of Black women everywhere through this program. 

Committee chairs: Grace-Camille Munroe and Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore 

Executive planning committee members: Grace-Camille Munroe (co-chair), Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore (co-chair), Marcelle Mullings, Marcia Glasgow, Justin Lloyd, Crystal Mark

Event planning subcommittee members: Marcia Glasgow (lead), Nicole Waldron (lead), Nikki Waheed, Justin Lloyd, Grace-Camille Munroe, Joan Pierre, Anita Oyekewere

Communication subcommittee members: Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore (lead), Eboni Morgan, Natasha Tucker, Surbhi Bir, Marcia Glasgow

Honouree and recipient subcommittee members: Grace-Camille Munroe (lead), Marcelle Mullings, Rahma Hilowle, Marsha Brown, Crystal Mark, Shurla Charles Forbes


If you have any questions, please email Cheryl Lewis (Executive Assistant, Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion) at or 416-979-5379.

This event is hosted by the OVPECI 

The Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion provides strategic leadership and support for the achievement of TMU’s vision to be a leader in equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the university’s mandate.

Support the Viola Desmond Student Award and Bursary Program