Growing up in a single-parent household in one of the city’s challenged neighbourhoods, attending university didn’t seem to be a reality for Tameika Green-Crane.
Watching her mother struggle to make ends meet convinced the young woman that higher education would be her passport to a better life in which she could help elevate her family and community.
The fourth-year Ryerson University Occupational Health & Safety student plans to use her degree to impact and empower neighbourhoods.
She was one of four recipients of awards named after Black women who have made significant contributions in Canada. They were presented at Ryerson’s fourth annual Viola Desmond Day celebration last week.
“Looking back, I never thought I would be standing on a university campus and also be rewarded for my contributions here,” said Green-Crane who was the recipient of the Nancy Morton Student Award.
Born into enslavement in 1762 in Maryland, Morton – with the help of lawyers – challenged her slave master’s right to her ownership in a New Brunswick court in the early 1800s, though she lost by a split decision and was forced to return to her owner.
Green-Crane said she’s honoured to be following in the footsteps of strong Black women like Morton.
Employed with the Ryerson University Tri-Mentoring Program, Green-Crane has served as a first-generation ambassador for the last two years. She also developed a youth-focused tobacco program geared towards delivering socio-economically and culturally relevant health promotion programming in the Greater Toronto Area, started a group for minority girls from single-parent households in the Esplanade community where she was raised, and founded the Ryerson chapter of Global Health, Education & Economic Development.
Dr. Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar, a Caribbean Studies lecturer and associate professor in Ryerson’s Sociology department, was recognized with the Jean Augustine Faculty Award.
“This award is significant to me because it’s presented in the name of a woman who broke frontiers and is a wonderful role model,” said Hernandez-Ramdwar whose area of research includes Caribbean cultures and identities, popular culture, youth and sexual abuse, African traditional religions in the Caribbean, Diasporic and second-generation identities, and racism and Caribbean peoples in Canada.
Committed to opening doors to traditionally marginalized students, Hernandez-Ramdwar served a term on Ryerson’s Faculty Association as a grievance officer specializing in cases of racial discrimination.
Marlyn Husbands, a student services learning strategist at the Ted Rogers School of Management, proudly accepted the Violet Blackman Staff Award.
Coming to Canada from Jamaica in 1920, Blackman helped establish the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s Toronto chapter.
“When you look at the struggles that individuals like Violet Blackman endured, I am honoured to be standing on these women’s shoulders working to enrich the lives of students and communities,” Husbands said.
In her role at Ryerson, Husbands develops and delivers student-centred learning programs to support over 8,000 young people.
Earl Haig Secondary School Grade 12 student, Alexandria Green, received the High School Student Award that honours Viola Desmond who, in 1946, refused to sit in a New Glasgow theatre balcony section designated for Blacks. Instead, she sat on the ground floor reserved for White patrons.
After being forcibly removed from the theatre and arrested, Desmond was found guilty of not paying the one cent difference in tax on the balcony ticket from the main floor theatre ticket and fined $20 and costs.
When efforts to overturn the conviction at higher levels of court failed, the Halifax beauty shop owner closed the business, moved to Montréal and enrolled in a business college. She eventually settled in New York where she died in 1965 at age 50.
In April 2010, the Nova Scotia government officially apologized and pardoned Desmond, and last January Canada Post paid tribute to the national heroine by unveiling a stamp in her name.
The Desmond Studio of Beauty Culture’s owner made her symbolic stand nine years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a White passenger in Montgomery, Alabama.
“We have to think back to people that have stood up for us in different circumstances and created a better country for us because they had the courage to say that we are not putting up with your policies, your practices, your discrimination, your hate and all of that,” said Ryerson University’s president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Sheldon Levy. “And so the young people of today and my generation have a better life because of people who stood up for what they believed is right.
“You also have to remember that there will always be tomorrow’s struggle and we have to be alert and aware of any form of discrimination, harassment, bullying or anything that puts one person at a disadvantage for a single reason. We always have to stand up and there is no better example than Viola Desmond who, on that one day, said you are not going to throw me out of this theatre.”
The Ryerson Students Union, United Black Students of Ryerson, the Tri-Mentoring Program and the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Services organized the event.
By RON FANFAIR