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Viola Desmond Day Awards celebrate black Canadian women

Nursing Professor Annette Bailey discusses anti-gun-violence advocacy at annual ceremony
By: Will Sloan
March 09, 2017

Annette Bailey, a Professor at the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, gave a passionate speech about gun violence at the ninth annual Viola Desmond Day Awards, opens in new window.

Receiving the Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard Faculty Award at the March 6 event, Bailey discussed her work researching the impact of gun violence in Canada, and her long career of advocating for policy change.

“I don’t feel comfortable with the option of doing nothing,” said Bailey in her speech. “Young, black men today are dying. They’re dying fast. Black men today are not living to be able to take their rightful place in this world—in their families as fathers, as mentors, and as advocates. You just have to turn on the evening news or pick up the paper to see evidence of their rapid demise.”

Named for the black Nova Scotia businesswoman who challenged segregation, the Viola Desmond Day Awards recognize the contributions of black Canadian women to the Ryerson campus and community. Bailey’s research on gun violence has been used to inform Canadian policy, including the revised Bill C-32 (the Victims Bill of Rights), and she was worked extensively with community-based anti-violence organization. In 2015, she launched a scholarship program in the Jane and Finch area to support underserved youth.

“We see lack of access to needed resources like victim compensation; lack of support because of the racial stigma that’s associated with gun violence; and a lack of empathy and social discourse that deem victims of gun violence as unworthy victims,” said Bailey.

“I do what I do for the black mother who lost her only three sons to gun violence. For the black mother who was left with a voicemail that her son left when he was being murdered. For the black woman who sent her 15-year-old son to school—a respected institution of learning—only to be told that he was gunned down in the stairwell of his school.

“I do it for the black mother who looked at me and, uncontrollably crying, said, ‘Annette, I’m still waiting for him to come home and decorate the Christmas tree with me. On Christmas Eve, he left to get his gear, and he was shot down by somebody who he had told to simply take the smoking out of a community health centre.’”

Also at the ceremony, Donica Willis (graphic and web design specialist at Ryerson Student Affairs) received the Ms. Rosemary Sadlier Ryerson Staff Award for her work as founder of the design studio DW Creativ, external link, opens in new window and her BLAQK GOLD, external link, opens in new window visual campaign.

“It doesn’t take much,” said Willis. “You don’t have to be doing everything under the sun to make a difference. To me, it’s about being authentic to myself, and using the gift that God gave me to express who I am. I do that through my artwork, whether it’s day-to-day at Ryerson or at my business or just as a hobby.”

Devanae Bryce (a business technology management student in TRSM) received the Ms. Paulette Senior Ryerson Student Award. The first-year student serves on Ryerson’s women’s basketball team, and has volunteered for Toronto Community Housing basketball camp, 416 LGBT sports day, family day for Syrian refugees, and more.

“I grew up in a non-diverse city, I would say—in Newmarket—so I had to teach myself about black history,” said Bryce. “Nothing was in library books for me to learn. It was hard, but it was also really encouraging to me, because I got to share it with my peers. Even if they didn’t quite understand it, I got to educate myself and educate others—something I’m going to continue to do.”

In addition, Siffan Hassen, Grade 12 student at Central Technical School, was presented with the Ms. Viola Desmond High School Student Award. Hassen was cited for her volunteer work at her high school and in her community. Fourth-year social work student Sharon Folkes-Hall received the Viola Desmond Bursary, recognized for her extensive work with community groups and affordable housing.

For more information on the Viola Desmond Day Awards, including the full list of this year's award recipients, visit Ryerson Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, opens in new window.

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