Winning this year’s Lincoln Alexander Community Award is quite satisfying for 20-year-old Talisha Ramsaroop.
It validates the youth mentor and sociology student’s tireless work to break down barriers created by racial stereotypes. In addition, the $5,000 cash award presented to recipients along with a personalized certificate will assist with tuition costs in her final year at York University.
“I never met Mr. Alexander, but to receive an award in his name is really an honour,” said Ramsaroop who migrated from Guyana 18 years ago. “This honours means a lot to me.”
Raised in the Jane & Finch community, Ramsaroop graduated from Emery Collegiate Institute.
“I know how stereotypes can affect young people,” she said. “I was an average student who never thought post-secondary education was an option until a male teacher made me realize that every student has the potential to succeed. Prior to that, it seemed that nobody cared or expected me to do well because I was from a challenged neighbourhood. Ever since then, I have set lofty goals for myself.”
Ramsaroop aspires to pursue her Master’s and Ph.D. and become an anti-racist educator.
“I have always had a passion for teaching,” she said.
At school, Ramsaroop plays a leading role in the university’s New Opportunities for Innovative Student Engagement (NOISE) mentoring project that brings together York University alumni, social work students and high schoolers in the Jane & Finch community in a multi-directional learning opportunity that increases the youths’ connection with the university, their larger community and passion for lifelong learning.
Since 1993, Lincoln Alexander Awards are presented to three young people between the ages of 16 and 25 who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in promoting positive social change. The awards are presented in two categories – community and student.
This year’s Student Award winners are Saba Oji of Waterloo and Nathalie Restoule of the Dokis First Nation.
Lieutenant Governor David Onley and the province’s Minister of Citizenship & Immigration Michael Coteau presented the awards last week at Queen’s Park.
“Your ingenuity is as impressive as is your passion,” Onley told the recipients. “Like Lincoln Alexander, you refuse to let these issues limit your lives. Instead, you tackle them head on for the benefit of your communities and ultimately the entire province…I thank you for expressing your passion for an equitable world in such tangible ways and on behalf of all Ontarians thank you for building a society that truly deserves its reputation for racial harmony.”
Coteau praised the recipients for making their communities brighter places to live and grow.
“You embody everything Mr. Alexander taught us about being active citizens,” he added.
A total of 35 young people applied for this year’s awards.
“We had a stellar collection to choose from,” said retired Toronto District School Board administrator Lloyd McKell who has chaired the selection committee for the past six years. “These are candidates who are using their leadership skills to inspire others.”
The presentation ceremony took place on January 21 which is designated Lincoln Alexander Day in the province.
A Private Members Bill to mark Alexander’s birthday was passed into law by the Ontario Legislature last month.
“Linc certainly deserves this unprecedented honour,” Onley remarked. “He was a man of many talents who overcame adversity to create a remarkable legacy…He was born at a time when racism was rampant, yet he went on to law school and joined a firm where his talent mattered more than his colour…His two passions were fighting racism and encouraging youth and both inspired the creation of these awards to stimulate and reward the anti-racism efforts of a bright new generation.”
Alexander, Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament and federal Minister and Ontario’s first Black Lieutenant Governor, died in October 2012 at age 90.