While she never met Lincoln Alexander, Yosra Musa is aware of his impact on Canadian society.
The McMaster University student resides in Hamilton which was Alexander’s home for nearly seven decades before he passed away in October 2012 at age 90.
“If there was one person that people unanimously loved, it was Lincoln Alexander,” said Musa shortly after been recognized last week with an award presented in the former Lieutenant Governor’s name to youths who have demonstrated leadership in ending racial discrimination.
The ceremony was held at Queen’s Park on the inaugural national Lincoln Alexander Day, celebrated a year after it was observed in the province.
As a university student, Musa was committed to improving the experience of minority students on campus and supporting Hamilton’s African-Canadian community. She played a leading role as a research student in developing McMaster’s first African and African Diaspora Studies program that was rolled out as an undergraduate minor in the 2014-15 academic year.
Musa also co-founded Canada’s first Black intra-sorority, co-edited The Voice – McMaster’s only Afro-Caribbean publication – and organized “Champs on Camps”, which allowed Black youths from challenged communities to visit McMaster University, where they were exposed to mentors and role models that looked like them.
The Dean’s Honour List graduate is enrolled in Seneca College’s global logistics & supply chain management graduate certificate program.
Other Lincoln Alexander Award winners were Madison Goodwill of Owen Sound and Thornhill’s Zuberi Attard, who graduated last April from the Leadership, Empowerment, Achievement and Determination (LEAD) program which provides struggling high school students with life skills and helps them make a seamless transition to tertiary level education.
Once homeless, the Central Commerce Collegiate graduate – who lived in a hostel for a few months – founded a student association that provides newcomers with a platform for open dialogue.
Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell told the recipients their accomplishments are a shining example of the incredible impact one person’s actions can have on the wider community. She also encouraged them to continue engaging in genuine dialogue on race issues.
“This dialogue can often be difficult, but the conversation is absolutely essential,” she said. “That is one of the reasons we are recognizing these deserving young people today. They have taken up the challenge of opening up that dialogue in their own particular locations and in their own particular way by listening to others and creating a fora and opportunities for the expression of ideas and most importantly for self-expression. I imagine Lincoln would have loved that and I encourage you to carry on the legacy of this great man.”
Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark congratulated the winners and reminded them that they are being honoured with an award named after a Canadian icon.
“We served in the House of Commons and in many ways he taught me how to be an effective member of the House,” Clark said in a video tribute.
The Hamilton West Conservative Member of Parliament for 12 years, Alexander served as Minister of Labour in Clark’s minority government in 1979.
“I want to make it clear that he was not appointed to cabinet because he was Black,” said Clark. “He was part of the cabinet because he was able, very able and through his life, being Black, in fact, could have been an obstacle to the success he made. Linc, however, didn’t allow prejudice to defeat him and more importantly he didn’t allow prejudice to make him less than he was. He was physically a big man, but he was big also in attitude. He was also generous, gregarious, open and very much respectful of others.”
The second of three children and the product of a railway porter father and mother who migrated from St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Jamaica respectively, and who separated during his early years, Alexander – who was born on Simcoe St. in Toronto – attended Earl Grey Public School, Riverdale Collegiate and Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, New York where he was one of the very few Black kids on his block that went to school.
Alexander went to live in Hamilton with his mother when they came back from the United States. He served with the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1942 to 1945, rising to the rank of corporal and was a wireless operator during World War II. After leaving the military, he enrolled in McMaster University in 1949 to study law and later attended Osgoode Hall Law School.
Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament, Alexander served as the first Black chair of the province’s Workers Compensation Board before being appointed Ontario first Black vice-regal in 1986. He insisted on being called “Linc” instead of “Your Honour” during his six years in the post in which he attended 4,060 functions, visited 235 schools, shook about 240,000 hands and signed nearly 60,000 orders-in-council and cabinet documents.
The Order of Ontario and Canada recipient and Hamilton-Wentworth, York Regional and Toronto Police honorary chief was the longest serving chancellor of the University of Guelph, where he held the position for an unprecedented five terms, a record among Canadian universities. Five years ago, he was named chancellor emeritus in recognition of his lengthy and distinguished service to the university.
Bill S-123 establishing Lincoln Alexander Day nationally was introduced in the Senate in December 2013 by Jamaican-born senator Don Meredith.
“As we begin 2015, it’s apparent that Lincoln’s legacy needs to be honoured more than ever and honoured not just in name but also in practice,” said Dowdeswell. “We want to ensure that his good work continues each and every day. Through his career from law and politics to serving as the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, he used his considerable intellect and personal magnetism to further the cause of racial equality.”
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.