Canada opened a door for Dr. Martha Kumsa and her three children when they found their homeland, Ethiopia, unsafe. The journalist-turned-social worker has, however, been unsuccessful over the last 17 years in attempting to have her husband join them permanently in Canada. Leenco Lata, one of the Oromo Liberation Movement’s founders and an accomplished author, lives in Oslo, Norway. (The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.)
Dr. Kumsa said the denial of the application for family reunification feels like a cruel act of injustice which is not unique to Canada.
Kumsa has been presented with an Amazing Aces Courage Award by the Herb Carnegie Future Aces Foundation.
While working as a journalist for an Oromo newspaper, Kumsa was arrested because of an article she wrote urging Oromo women to reclaim their cultural heritage and speak the truth. She spent nine years in prison before being released in 1989 as part of a general amnesty for prisoners.
PEN Canada – an association of writers and supporters formed in 1926 to defend freedom of expression and raise awareness of that right – played a key role in campaigning for her release and was instrumental in the human rights activist coming to Canada as a refugee via Kenya.
Kumsa returned to the classroom in her new environment, completing her undergraduate, Master’s and PhD in 10 years. She’s currently an assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, teaching in all streams of the social work program. Her teaching and research interests include issues of home, homeland and belonging among Diasporic communities of refugees and immigrants and the paradox of nationalism and transnationalism.
Several family members, colleagues and friends, including educator and writer, Dr. Clem Marshall, attended the Amazing Aces event to support Kumsa.
“Martha was a brilliant student who won many awards,” said Dr. Marshall who taught her at York University. “She’s a person of deep empathy and someone who if you are lucky enough to cross her path, you hope you will never lose sight of her again. That’s how inspiring she is.”
The winner of the 1996 York University Dr. Wilson Head Memorial Award for Outstanding Work in Anti-Racism, Peace and Human Rights, Kumsa said Ethiopia is still her home and the place where her heart resides.
“I yearn to go back, but things have not changed for my people,” she said. “The things that drove me away still exist. Governments may have changed hands, but things on the grounds haven’t. But the moment I see an opportunity, I will be back.”
The late Herb Carnegie and his Future Aces Foundation founded the Amazing Aces Awards in 2008 to recognize individuals and couples for courage, service, educational excellence and exceptional achievement.
During his induction into the Order of Ontario in 1996, Carnegie politely turned down a journalist’s request for him to be photographed without his wife of 63 years. (She died in 2003.) The reporter acceded to the request, but Audrey Carnegie was cropped out of the photo when it was published.
Hurt and disappointed, Carnegie started the Amazing Aces Awards to recognize couples.
“It’s so very satisfying to share this award with my wife,” said former Conservative Party of Ontario leader, John Tory. “The work I do in the community could not have been done without her support. This is one of those rare occasions when she’s been honoured too because she has done her own share of work in addition to supporting me and raising the family while I was doing other things.”
He and Barbara Hackett – they have been married since 1978 – were the recipients of the Achievement Award. A former Bell & Howell Canada vice-president, Hackett is the president of Stratheden Homes Ltd., a design-build company she started in 1994.
Prior to entering politics, Tory joined the family law firm after law school and was the chief of staff of former Premier Bill Davis, chief executive officer of Rogers Media and the Canadian Football League’s ninth commissioner.
The recipient of many honours and awards, he said that any recognition associated with Carnegie, who died last March, is special.
“Herb was a guy who had his greatest passion in life taken away from him for the worst possible reason which was the colour of his skin and yet he did not feel sorry for himself and give up,” said Tory who turned 58 last Monday. “He turned around, dusted himself off and distinguished himself in business. He went beyond that and contributed so much to the community by helping other people and making sure they had the opportunity he was denied. He was so humble and warm and I was a great admirer of him.”
The host of an afternoon radio show, Tory said there was a common thread between Carnegie and his father – John Tory Sr. – who died in April 2011.
“They were people who wore their values on their sleeves and that was not done in an offensive way,” he said. “They were very clear about what they stood for, which was helping others, hard work, decency and integrity.”
Retired Toronto District School Board principal, Vivian Shapiro, was the recipient of the Action Award. After retiring in 2002, she joined the Future Aces Foundation as its first education director.
“This is more than just a job,” she said. “It’s a life of heart and one where rewards to heart are enormous when you see the difference you make in children’s lives…Herb really changed my life in terms of the way I was with people. He made me slow down, love people where they are at and build them for success in a way that they would keep their image intact.”
The Toronto Argonauts Football Club, which created the “Huddle Up” program a decade ago to address bullying in schools, was presented with the Education Award while David and Mary Thomson Collegiate teacher, Jennifer Meloche, who played a key role in the introduction of the Future Aces Creed in her school, and dentist, Dr. Anthony Sterling, received Action and Service Awards respectively.
“I met Dr. Carnegie on a number of occasions,” said Dr. Sterling, a major supporter of many community initiatives. “He was a pillar in our community and a man with a vision.”
Denied the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League (NHL) because of his skin colour, Carnegie turned the negative experience into a lasting legacy, launching the Future Aces Creed to enhance the overall development of young participants in the Future Aces Hockey School he and Doug Hester established in 1955 at Mitchell Field.
Schools in Canada and the rest of the world have adopted the Future Aces Creed which inspires parents, educators and community leaders to encourage young people to focus on such virtuous qualities as a good attitude, sound ethics, service and civic responsibility.
In addition to the Amazing Aces Awards, Aces Awards were presented to NHL vice-president of community affairs and diversity programming, Kenneth Martin, Donna Cardoza, Terry DuPlain, Jim Girvan, Michelle Hopson, Patricia O’Connor, Rita Spencer, Sean Sportun, Julie Vlashi, Winnie Wales and three brothers, Robert, Daniel and Joseph Morra.
By RON FANFAIR