By RON FANFAIR
Dr. Ouida Wright, a pioneer in anti-racism education in Ontario, has passed away after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 83.
The distinguished educator served as an Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) in the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training from 1993-1995 and played a vital role with various levels of educators, governments and community organizations in the development and implementation of a number of policies.
As an ADM, Wright established the Anti-Racism, Access and Equity Division and oversaw the implementation of the provincial government’s policies in these key areas at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions.
“She was really a pioneer in solidifying equity policies in school boards,” said Canadian Association of Black Educators (CABL) president, Kirk Mark.
A graduate of St. Andrew High School for Girls in Jamaica, Wright obtained her first degree from London University in 1950, her Masters from McGill University six years later and a Doctorate from Cornell University in 1970.
She was a teacher and English chair with boards of education in Montreal, Ottawa, North York and Peel, an elementary school principal for 13 years, assistant superintendent and Toronto Board of Education (now Toronto District School Board) superintendent of education for 15 years up until 1992.
“Ouida came to the board when the discourse about what was taught and how it was being taught was emerging,” said retired TDSB administrator Lloyd McKell whose mother passed away on Good Friday in Trinidad & Tobago. “Previously, we were looking at things like policies and services to support disadvantaged students and new immigrants.
“While acknowledging that was important, she felt that the curriculum should reflect the students’ cultures, experiences and perspectives. One of the seminal expressions of her work in that area was when she took on the responsibility of leading the consultative committee on the education of Black students.”
Wright contributed to the development of the Toronto Observation Project that developed material to meet the educational needs of city students while reflecting their diversity.
She also taught at McGill University and chaired the committee that developed the M.Ed. degree program and she was a sessional lecturer at the University of Toronto Faculty of Education and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
“Her contribution to education is legendary,” said Dr. Avis Glaze, Canada’s first Black female director of education. “I have always admired Ouida in terms of the leadership she provided. She was a trailblazer and innovator who will be greatly missed in her community. The impact she has had over the years has been truly remarkable.”
Glaze and Wright co-wrote an article in 1998 titled, “Improving the Education and Life Chances of African Canadian Youth: Insights from Ontario’s Royal Commission on Learning”, in which they summarized some of the barriers that Black and other minority youth face, including negative differential treatment, stereotyping, bias in testing and evaluation, a monocultural curriculum, streaming, racism and the self-fulfilling prophecy of low expectations.
Wright was a recipient of many awards, including the Governor General’s Medal for proficiency in teaching, the Prime Minister’s Commendation for contribution to education, the Canadian Women in Science 1991 annual award for curriculum development and a CABL recognition award in 1995.
“She contributed a lot, not only to education but also as a volunteer for various organizations,” said lifelong educator and Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) founder Dr. Mavis Burke. “She adopted a Jamaican school through PACE and was very concerned about the state of basic schooling in the country of her birth. Ouida was a caring person who also gave out scholarships to organizations.”
Four years ago, Wright and her husband of 63 years – Dr. Leebert Wright who served as director of Clinical Biochemistry at Wellesley and Princess Margaret hospitals and a U of T associate professor until his retirement in 1993 – were recognized with Harry Jerome Lifetime Achievement awards.
They are just one of two couples to be honoured with Harry Jerome awards. The other is 2007 Nigeria election candidate Dr. Isa Odidi and his wife Dr. Amina Odidi who were recognized for excellence in technology and innovation in 2004.
Dr. Keren Brathwaite said Wright was a brilliant educator and a woman of integrity and passion.
“I was privileged to serve with her on numerous committees around Black students education, anti-racism and equity,” recalled Brathwaite. “I admired her for her quiet dignity and the breadth of her expertise. We have lost a great educator.”
In addition to her husband, Wright is survived by her sons Clayton, Bruce and Michael.
The funeral takes place this morning at Grove United Church, 43 Forest Grove Rd. Drive in Toronto. The body will be interred at York cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made to Princess Margaret and Mount Sinai hospitals and the Julia Viola Simms Science scholarship administered by the Black Business and Professional Association.
Wright, who also had a passion for music, established the scholarship to honour her late mother who – like her daughter – had a lifelong aspiration for higher education. The $3,000 scholarship is awarded annually to a female student who is pursuing mathematics, physics, biology or chemistry at an accredited Canadian university.