Distance is no obstacle for scholarship winners
October 11, 2017
Just a month into post-secondary schooling at the University of Ottawa, Yvette Mejo M’Obam could easily have chosen not to show up in Toronto last week to accept a scholarship.
That, however, is not her style.
At the end of a marketing class at 12.30 p.m. last Thursday, she was driven to York University to receive a CIBC scholarship administered by the Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA).
A few hours later, she returned to the nation’s capital and, with just a few hours sleep, was back on campus for an 8.30 a.m.class.
Not showing up for the scholarship wasn’t an option for Mejo M’Obam.
“I feel so supported by people who are investing in me that I had to come here, shake their hands and say ‘thank you’,” she said. “When I am using their investment to buy books or pay school tuition, I need to put a face to that person or company that made this possible.”
Passionate about volunteering and fundraising, Mejo M’Obam was part of a group at her Kingston high school that started a Black History Month initiative celebrating Black inspirational figures.
Enrolled in the Bachelor of Commerce program, she plans to become an accountant and work in the pharmaceutical industry.
Mejo M’Obam migrated from the Cameroon nine years ago.
She wasn’t along in taking the time out from a busy school schedule to come to Toronto for the 31st BBPA national scholarship ceremony.
After a 10.30 a.m. economics class at Queen’s University, freshman Catherine Haba jumped into her father’s car for the three-hour trip to Toronto. Based in Ottawa, her dad drove to Kingston and hung out at a Tim Hortons in Kingston near his daughter’s university.
Haba, who is pursuing global development studies, also had to be in class early the next day
“I knew that it was going to be a busy day, but these opportunities don’t come often,” she said. “When there are individuals and firms out there contributing money to young people to help with their educational advancement, I think the least you can do is show up to demonstrate your appreciation. It’s the right thing to do.”
Sitting on the executive of 10 clubs and organizations and leading several initiatives while in high school, Haba maintained a 93 per cent in Grade 12 at Glebe Collegiate Institute where she was the head of student services.
She plans to pursue law studies, join the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and become a judge advocate general.
The judge advocate general is the senior legal officer in the CAF responsive to the chain of command in providing legal services.
In Grade Eight, Haba joined the cadet program.
“That provided me with the leadership and discipline that you need to serve in the military,” she said. “I also have a passion for law and international relations which, when combined, are perfect for me to function in the judge advocate general role.”
Born in Guinea, Haba along with her older brother and parents came to Canada when she was seven years old. They spent four months in Montreal and four years in Calgary before settling in Ottawa in 2009.
She was the recipient of the scholarship named after the late Al Hamilton who founded the defunct ‘Contrast Newspaper’ that served Toronto’s Black and West Indian community in the 1970s.
Haba was among five Queen’s University students to receive BBPA national scholarships.
The others were Downsview Secondary School graduate Nicole Osayande who plans to specialize in computer-automated surgeries, high school teacher candidate Kerr Nanan, aspiring sound engineer Sakhia Kweno and Shakira Brathwaite who is in the school of medicine. They were unable at attend the event.
Brathwaite was a recipient of the inaugural Guy Steer $2,000 scholarship.
The highly successful real estate broker lives by the mantra, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected’.
He was adopted at 11 months old by his grandparents who were entrepreneurs in Jamaica.
“They owned four grocery stores and were into the farming and trucking business,” said Steer who came to Toronto in 1964 to pursue studies at The Radio College of Canada. “I grew up with a lot on my plate and I told myself that when I am in a position to give back, I will willingly do so.”
Steer also donates scholarships to church groups and organizations.
“Our young people are bright and talented, but all some of them need is financial help to achieve their dreams and take their place in the world,” he said. “I am happy to do whatever I can to assist them.”
Higher education and community engagement have always been a priority for Samia Tecle.
Raised close to York University, she relishes every opportunity to give back.
“I think that’s something our parents instilled in us,” said Tecle who is pursuing a doctorate in sociology at the U of T.
She was a program co-ordinator at Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and a refugee and advocacy co-ordinator at Matthew House which is a shelter for refugees.
The third of four siblings, Tecle looks up to older brother Sam Tecle who is a Canada graduate scholar and PhD candidate.
“I have big shoes to fill with Sam leading the way,” she said. “He has set a real good example for his siblings and other young people in the community.”
Born in Sudan as his parents were fleeing war-torn Eritrea, Sam Tecle took a break from his busy schedule to attend the awards.
“Samia is a firecracker and I am so proud of her,” he said. “She might be following in my footsteps, but she’s blazing her own trail.”
Though unable to attend the awards ceremony because of work commitments, lawyer Konata Lake was again proud to present a $2,000 scholarship in his mother’s name.
Former Legal Aid Ontario employee Alrica Gordon, who brought Lake and his sister from Jamaica when he was 12 years old, succumbed to cancer last year after a six-year battle.
Since 2009 when he was called to the Bar, Lake has sponsored a scholarship in his mother’s name to send a high school student in the Jane & Finch community to university or college.
“My mom was my rock and foundation and I am so glad she was able to attend some of the award events before she passed away,” said Lake who is a senior associate at Torys LLP.
Aspiring nurse Jumoke Jimoh, who graduated from the ‘Success Beyond Limits’ mentorship training program in the Jane & Finch community and is enrolled in Seneca College, was the recipient of the Alrica Gordon scholarship.
Nearly $150,000 in scholarships were presented to 38 students.
Other winners were Aisha Mohamed, Addisalem Semagn, Charmaine Ross, Tylisha Upshaw, Amy Dyer, Carl Lamers, Christina Smith, Jade Hazell, Hamdi Jimale, Khalida Elsadati, Kai Butterfield, Kiana Blake, Oluwasimisola Solebo, Dardia Joseph, Kharissa Edwards, Tierra Hohn, Chelsie Johnson, Kayla Smith, Tolu Falade, Cassi-Ann Hutchinson, Victoire Kpade, Josee Smith, Joren Wilson, Maye Water, Matthias Scheid-Wiltshire, Reakash Walters, Kiara Picart, Liam Rose, Janae Knott and Megan Vernon.
The first BBPA scholarship worth $1,000 was presented in 1986 to Jamaican-born Wayne Batchelor, who went on to become Canada’s first Black interventional cardiologist before relocating to Florida to practice 15 years ago.
The BBPA has presented almost $3.7 million in scholarships to students in the last 31 years.