Much was expected of Jane-Finch community youth worker, Wendell Adjetey, when he went to the United States to pursue doctoral studies at Yale University.
He has not disappointed.
Adjetey is one of 14 recipients of the prestigious Trudeau scholarship administered by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. The most prestigious doctoral award for the social sciences and humanities in Canada, the scholarship supports outstanding doctoral students who are committed to solving issues of critical importance to Canada and the world.
“I’m humbled to be a Trudeau Scholar,” said Adjetey. “It’s simply a dream come true. My peers are some of the brightest and most ambitious doctoral students in Canada. The financial resources are unparalleled, but more important to me are the intellectual community of scholars, fellows and mentors. As an aspiring academic who is also interested in shaping public and foreign policy in Canada, the Foundation’s core mission to bring academics into the policy world gives me much hope. I am looking forward to making the most of this incredible opportunity as there’s no other platform like it for aspiring professors and practitioners.”
In addition to an annual grant of up to $60,000 for a three-year period, Adjetey and the other scholars will benefit from the expertise and knowledge of the network of Foundation fellows and mentors.
“This cohort consists of the best minds studying crucial and complex questions for Canadians and the world, from Aboriginal issues to climate change in Canada,” said the foundation’s interim president Tim Brodhead. “The Trudeau scholarship provides them with financial support and an extensive network to generate innovative solutions that will inform public policies at home and abroad.”
Last year, Adjetey – who is pursuing a joint PhD in History and African-American Studies – was the recipient of the Canadian Studies Prize for graduate students for his essay, Saving Jimmy Wilson.
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 unsuccessful at 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 also secured three fellowships last year 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.
His 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.
Reuniting with his Ghanaian-born parents in Canada in 1992, 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 nine 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 in 2012 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.
“I am not surprised by what this young man is accomplishing,” said Dr. Taylor, who taught Adjetey for three courses at the U of T. “He’s someone our community needs to take notice of. His work ethic and commitment to purpose and community are just amazing.”
As an undergraduate student, Adjetey rounded up 16 Mississauga youths and took them to the U of T campus where they were provided with university T-shirts.
“He made them parade around the campus with their heads held high and he let them know this is where they belong,” recalled Taylor. “I think that tells you all you need to know about Wendell.”
A Canadian delegate to the fifth UNESCO Human Rights Leadership Institute in 2009, Adjetey received a YMCA of Greater Toronto Peace Medallion for community service that year and was a 2010 DiverseCity Fellow.