Some 46 Toronto youth got a much-needed shot in the arm when it comes to realizing their dreams of getting a post-secondary education, thanks to the latest round of Investing in Our Diversity Scholarships.
The program, which was initiated by Scadding Court Community Centre in 2002 with the help of lawyer and social justice activist Bill McMurtry, recognizes high-achieving students who work to end racism, promote diversity and build stronger, healthier communities.
It has grown immensely over the past 14 years – in its first year, two students earned Investing in Our Diversity Scholarships, a far cry from Wednesday’s number.
The winning students, hailing from across Toronto, were feted at a gala dinner at Dim Sum King restaurant on Dundas Street West. Each will receive up to $4,000 to help them cover the cost of earning a post-secondary education.
Munira Abukar, who received one of the scholarships in 2010, said without it, her life would have traveled a very different path.
“If I hadn’t been a recipient of this scholarship, I wouldn’t have gone into the program I went into,” she said, noting not worrying as much about money gave her more freedom to follow her dreams instead of simply studying in a field that would ensure she could pay off student loans quicker.
Currently a Toronto Community Housing board member, Abukar was named one of Chatelaine magazine’s Top 20 women under 30 in 2011. She remains active in her community and ran for Toronto Council in 2014.
“This scholarship changed not only my life personally, but also the lives of my parents, who have now seen seven of their nine children go on to some form of post-secondary education,” she said during the Wednesday, May 27 ceremony.
While Scadding Court has run the program for the past 14 years, handing out more than $800,000 in scholarship money to some 300 recipients thanks to the generosity of its many sponsors and donors, next year’s awards will be administered by Toronto Community Housing (TCH).
Lenna Bradburn, TCH vice-president of resident and community services, said she has observed the barriers – often financial – that too many young people face when looking to further their education.
“At Toronto Community Housing, we know our communities are home to some of the most brilliant young people in the country,” she said. “We also know many people in our communities struggle to continue in, or get into, school for reasons other than their own talents.”
Scadding Court Community Centre Executive Director Kevin Lee said Scadding will remain involved in the selection of recipients and the distribution of scholarships. The community centre, TCH and the Community Police Liaison Committees from Toronto Police 11 and 14 Divisions have all played a role in selecting winners.
Lee addressed the 2015 winners, noting the gift of education would allow them to continue to pursue the passions that earned them the scholarships in the first place.
“You’re going to be carrying the leadership torch in your community,” he said.
Former Toronto mayor and Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall, who also sits on the selection committee, noted the recipients were all overwhelmingly qualified for the scholarships given their commitment to anti-racism, diversity and community betterment.
“They are sophisticated, they are smart, they are passionate about their communities and they are moving,” she said. “Tonight, we have a chance to play a role in their moving.”
Hall noted by giving today’s youth a chance to pursue an education, it would make for a better tomorrow for all of Toronto.
“This is a time to celebrate, to feel really excited about the future of our city and to support the talented young people who will be the future leaders of this city,” she said.
For more information about the Investing in Our Diversity Scholarship Program, visit www. Torontohousing.ca/investinginourdiversityscholarshipprogram