Harvard graduate honoured for contributions to student life
May 26, 2017
Once told by her Toronto high school vice-principal that she would never graduate from university, Tonika Morgan took centre stage at Harvard University’s first commencement ceremony for Black students last Tuesday.
Graduating from the Ivy League research university last year with a Master’s in Education, she was honoured with a Black Legacy Award for her contributions to Black student life on campus.
“There was a lot of pressure to ensure that in addition to being a really great student that I was involved in the Harvard community and the Black Harvard community,” said Morgan who completed a Bachelor of Arts in equity & diversity at Ryerson University nine years ago. “It was challenging, but I am delighted that I was able to do both so well and really humbled to be recognized.”
Her path to Harvard’s graduate program was unconventional.
In 2015, Morgan – the holder of a strategic management certificate from York University’s Schulich School of Business -- raised $95,000 in two months through crowd funding.
Despite a demanding academic schedule, she was actively involved in student life during her one-year at Harvard.
Morgan, who has launched and led programs for hundreds of ‘non-traditional’ students, was a member of the organizing committee tasked with leading and co-ordinating the youth component of the Harvard Kennedy School youth engagement Black policy conference, and the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College Black Arts Festival.
She also led workshops and discussions for the ilab community and was the Harvard Journal for African American Public Policy managing editor responsible for print.
The 2005 YWCA Young Woman of Distinction Award recipient is an educational entrepreneurship fellow at Harvard Innovation Labs and a visiting fellow in the Edmond J. Safra Centre for Ethics. In that role, she’s responsible for the rollout and management of the ‘Policing and Militarization Today’ research project led by Harvard faculty members Laurence Ralph and Aisha Beliso-De Jesus.
“Harvard has opened incredible opportunities for me,” said the 2013 inaugural chair of Community Empowering Enterprises which is a United Way-supported legacy organization designed to provide social enterprise, entrepreneurial training and economic opportunities for African-Canadian youth. “I have done two fellowships, I was a teaching assistant and I co-designed a course. The university has given me the opportunity to work with world-class faculty and students. This is a fantastic privilege.”
Morgan is the sister of social justice activist and lawyer Anthony Morgan who is an associate at Falconers LLP specializing in civil, constitutional and criminal litigation.
“I am tremendously proud of my big sister,” said the McGill University graduate and 2007 GraceKennedy intern who was called to the bar four years ago. “It’s great to see her being honoured in this way on such a major international platform. We all know of the global prestige of Harvard. To get there is one thing, but to be awarded for excellence while being there is something else. She continues to inspire me. Her tenacity and fight to chart her own course as a Black woman on stages where many people would say that people of colour don’t’ belong has shown time and time again that if she wants to make something happen, it will. It is that kind of tenacity and perseverance that guide and inspire me in the work that I do, though in a different kind of way.”
A motivational speaker with the National Speakers Bureau & Global Speakers Agency since October 2015, Morgan founded the Beat Academy which is a talent discovery platform that exposes tech-savvy composers to opportunities in film, television, media and advertising.
The high school dropout lived a nomadic life for several years before winding up at the YWCA Stop 86 shelter (renamed 1st Stop Woodlawn) for young women.
With the support of her new environment, Morgan volunteered with the Toronto Youth Cabinet and became immersed in several community initiatives. The Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre hired her to help form a youth council in the area and she founded the Medina Collective, a grassroots hip-hop feminist, arts and education collective.
Morgan was also the Toronto Community Housing partnerships manager for almost four years and an adjunct professor in Centennial College’s faculty of community & health sciences.
In 2010, she was recognized for her dedication in addressing the social and economic barriers women face and also for her tireless work to engage young people in civic life with the Constance E. Hamilton Award.