Ryerson awards honour iconic Black women




Shauna Bookal was on cloud nine early last week. She was in the stands in Indianapolis when Ohio State captured the Big Ten Women’s basketball championship for a record-tying third straight year.

Bookal spent 18 months as a marketing coordinator for the university’s athletics program where she planned and implemented marketing strategies for the women’s basketball team. It was her first time back to watch the Buckeyes since she left two years ago and, after some celebrating and rest, she hit the road for the 13-hour drive back home, arriving at Ryerson University just in time last Monday night to receive the Marie Marguerite Rose award at the third annual Viola Desmond Day celebration.

A slave, Rose lived in Louisbourg in the 18the century. After being freed in 1775, she married a Mi’kmaq and they opened a tavern. She also made her own soap and preserves.

“It’s such a great honour to be presented with an award named to honour a true heroine,” said Bookal, who joined Ryerson University last June as athletics event coordinator. “The drive to get back here to receive this honour means nothing when compared with what this woman experienced. I am so happy to be recognized with an award in her name.”

Bookal, who coordinated game-day promotions and sponsorship and the department’s community outreach programs, and oversees special events, graduated from Francis Libermann Catholic High School in Scarborough and Brock University with a Sports Management degree. She also holds a Sports Management Graduate certificate from Durham College and a Masters degree in Sports Management from West Virginia University.

Four awards, named after Black women who have made significant contributions in Canada, are presented at the event.

Award-wining author and university professor Dr. Althea Prince was the recipient of the award named to honour Kay Livingstone who founded the Congress of Black Women Canada in 1971. She died suddenly three years later while returning from Mexico.

“It’s so wonderful to be walking in Kay’s shoes,” said Prince, a novelist and sociologist, who met the deceased twice in the 1970s. “Kay’s mother (Christina) opened her London home to my sister when she came from England as a nurse at a time when Black nurses could not find accommodation. Kay’s husband (George) was from Antigua where I was born so, in a sense, tonight is special because several pieces are reconnecting.”

Prince, who migrated to Canada in 1965, lectures at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education and is the Writer-in-Residence at Newcomer Women’s Service (Toronto).

Fourth-year Nursing student Shantae Johns, who migrated from Jamaica seven years ago and aspires to be a medical lawyer, was presented with the Mattie Hayes award. A slave in Georgia, Hayes settled in Saskatchewan with several generations of her family.

Earl Haig Secondary School arts student Jaicyea Smith was recognized with the award to honour 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 Montreal and enrolled in a business college. She eventually settled in New York where she died in 1965 at age 50.

“This award is important because of the person in whose name it’s given and also because of the volume of volunteer work I have done,” said Smith, a Grade 11 student who appeared in last year’s inaugural season of the YTV reality series, In Real Life. “I can now go and show my friends that good things happen when you give back freely.”

Ryerson’s president and vice-chancellor Dr. Sheldon Levy said the Viola Desmond Day celebration has become a signature event.

“The organizers are building a new and valued Ryerson tradition with these awards and the entire university community is better for it,” he said. “What is really amazing about the events surrounding Viola Desmond’s act of defiance is that it’s almost in my lifetime. I was born in 1949 and to think that something like that could happen in my lifetime is unbelievable.”

The Ryerson Students Union, United Black Students of Ryerson, the Trimentoring Program and the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Services organized the event.

“One of the terrific things for me as a Ryersonian is the number of groups from across the campus that come together to make a day like this happen and it really speaks to the unity of the university and to the sense of purpose by everyone,” said administration & finance vice-president Julia Hanigsberg.

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