A former youth worker in the Jane-Finch and Rexdale communities is making waves south of the border.
Wendell Adjetey, who recently completed his first year of a joint PhD in History and African-American Studies at Yale University, was the recipient of the prestigious Canadian Studies Prize for graduate students for his essay, Saving Jimmy Wilson: Canadian Racial Consciousness and Alabama Justice 1958.
“This essay is wonderfully written and highly original,” said Jay Gitlin, who is a history lecturer and associate director of the Howard R. Lamar Centre for the Study of Frontiers and Borders at Yale. “We hope you will be able to see it through to publication. We are all very pleased and hope this caps a very successful first year.”
Born in either 1903 or 1904, Wilson – an illiterate Black handyman who was convicted of stealing $1.95 from an 82-year-old White woman – was sentenced to death by an all-White jury in an Alabama court in 1958. An appeal against the death sentence was upheld by the state supreme court which held that the “the amount of the money…taken is immaterial”.
The case received global coverage and petitions were sent demanding the overturn of the death sentence. Wilson was paroled in 1973 after serving 16 years in prison.
Adjetey has also secured three fellowships to conduct summer archival research in Canada and the United States. They include the Social Sciences and Human Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada three-year doctoral fellowship, which supports research training and knowledge mobilization activities in the social sciences and humanities.
“The SSHRC, to me, is a Canadian endorsement of the importance of my doctoral research on African-Canadians,” said Adjetey.
Adjetey’s doctoral research looks at how organized labour and the pursuit of civil rights opened the door for Black people in North America to forge transformational freedom linkages in the inter- and post-war period.
Migrating with his parents from Ghana in 1992 when he was seven years old, Adjetey completed his first degree in international relations and history and a Master’s in political science at the University of Toronto.
Following an increase in gun violence in the city eight years ago, he started the Forster Terrace After-School Program for young people residing in challenged communities. Through role playing, film and professional workshops, he taught non-violent conflict resolution techniques to the young people. Prior to heading to the United States, Adjetey was a case manager in the Jane-Finch area with the $5 million federally funded Prevention Intervention Toronto program, which is aimed at steering young people in the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods away from gang culture.
Recognized last year for his academic achievements and community service with the Keith Forde Youth of Excellence Service Award, Adjetey counts former Canadian Club of Toronto president Nick Chambers and curator and historian, Dr. Sheldon Taylor, among his many mentors.
“Nick has been incredibly supportive of my coming to Yale and continues to be an ongoing source of encouragement throughout my studies,” said the 2009 YMCA of Greater Toronto Peace Medallion recipient for community service and 2010 DiverseCity Fellow.
Taylor invited a few of the young men in Adjetey’s after-school mentoring program to the University of Toronto where he spoke to them about several issues, including the challenges of being a minority in Canada.
Doctoral candidate, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Adjetey connected the first time they met on the Mississauga transit seven years ago.
“I met him when he was an undergrad and I have seen him excel through his Master’s,” said Owusu-Bempah, whose research interest is primarily on the intersection of race, ethnicity and criminal justice. “To get into Yale is quite an accomplishment and I am so proud of him.”