Diversity awards honour Sherona Hall, Bill McMurtry


Growing up in one of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods exposed Emmanuel Muamba to some of the unique challenges that the mainly low-income residents face.


Cuts to social service programs and the denial of job opportunities to area youth based, he claims, on the neighbourhood they live in are some of the challenges that the Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School graduate said he has seen in his 14 years residing in the Trethewey community.

The injustice and inequity inspired Muamba to pursue a journalism career. Next semester, he enters Humber College’s two-year diploma in Radio & Television course before transferring to Ryerson’s Journalism program.

“I feel that a career in journalism will allow me to expose some of the things that are not right that I have seen while growing up in a subsidized community,” said Muamba, one of 40 recipients of scholarships awarded last week to students living in Toronto Community Housing (TCH). “I have friends who have been denied summer jobs because of the neighbourhood they come from. Over the years, we have had programs taken away from us and then people want to know why so many of your youth are getting into trouble. If there is nothing meaningful for them to do in their community, what you want them to do?”

Muamba is part of a youth organization trying to secure public and private funding for youth-centred initiatives in his community. The Pentecostal church member also started a Bible study focus group in his high school.

The 19-year-old credits his Congo-born mother, Ginette, for instilling him with character and values.

“Though she’s a single mother with not much material resources, she has done a fabulous job in raising her children,” he said. “She works hard to provide for us but still spends quality time with her kids and is very much involved in everything we do. It’s because of her that I have been able to stay on the right path.”

Jarvis Collegiate Institute graduate and tutor Sarah Ermias, who was born in Toronto to Ethiopian parents, shared the spotlight with Muamba and the rest of the recipients at the 10th annual Investing in Our Diversity Scholarship Program Awards at City Hall.

The 17-year-old Ryerson University-bound student was the recipient of the inaugural Sherona Hall Memorial scholarship.

Hall, a Jamaican-born activist who worked with TCH communities to build capacity and support and advocate for young people, died in December 2006. She was a co-founder of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) here in Toronto and a product of the Democratic Socialist movement in Jamaica led by the late Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley.

“It’s obvious that she was a tireless community worker and I am so proud to be receiving this scholarship in her name,” said Ermias who aspires to be a dietician and a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders.

A member of her school’s Environmental and Cheerleading Clubs, Ermias said the scholarship could not have come at a better time.

“I know my family would have struggled to come up with the financial resources,” said Ermias who helped create a garden in her Esplanade Housing Co-op. “Now, we are relieved because of this contribution which means a lot.”

Hall’s son, Lowell, along with Nene Kwasi Kafele, Domenic Brizzi, Janice Sacksihand, the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party and the Sesheme Foundation contributed to the creation of the Sherona Hall Scholarship.

The program was started by long-time Blaney McMurtry litigator, Bill McMurtry, a relentless advocate for social justice who died four years ago, and Scadding Court Community Centre executive director Kevin Lee.

Since its inception, nearly 150 young people have been awarded scholarships worth close to $530,000.

In the feature address, former Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry – Bill’s older brother – congratulated the winners and noted that there is still much work to be done even though a climate of better understanding and greater civility prevails in the province.

“We still face challenges and much vigilance is required,” said the scholarship program’s honorary patron. “At the same time, we must recognize that all the laws in the world and all the human rights codes count for little if individual citizens are not prepared to make a personal commitment to tolerance, understanding and, above all, to fighting intolerance and bigotry.

“In my many years as a lawyer, attorney general and chief justice of Ontario, the palpable truth has been made clear to me and that is the law alone is not enough to protect those who are a different colour and those who profess a different religion. The law will never be enough by itself because, quite frankly, there is no legislature in the world capable of legislating ultimate principle.”

McMurtry joined his sister-in-law Carolyn Vesely and Alva Orlando and Ian Epstein of Blaney McMurtry in presenting the Blaney McMurtry scholarship to Central Technical School graduate Asha Osman who has been accepted in Ryerson University’s Early Childhood Education program.

“It’s our hope that in presenting this award to you, you will use it for your education and when you are done with that, you will enter the community and make the kinds of contributions that Bill made,” said Epstein. “If you play some small part in keeping Bill’s vision alive, that will be the greatest possible tribute to him.”

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