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Former UN Special Envoy Stephen Lewis tells students to 'change the universe'

By Antoinette Mercurio

Stephen Lewis

Distinguished visiting professor Stephen Lewis delivered an informative and inspiring speech at the first national health conference hosted by the Faculty of Community Services.

Students, faculty, researchers and industry professionals heard from an impassioned Stephen Lewis, distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson, at the first pan-Canadian health conference hosted by the Faculty of Community Services.

Lewis, a former UN Special Envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa, called on the campus community to 'give poverty a voice and activism a platform.'

Speaking on 'Global Health: It's a Matter of Equity, Access and Action.' Lewis touched on three of eight United Nations (UN) millennium development goals - child health, gender equality and food security. Lewis cited gender equality as an issue that's close to his heart.

"There's nothing more important in this world than gender equality. You can't have equity in the world when half the population is struggling or being oppressed. Gender equality has to be confronted - it lies at the centre of social determinants," he said.

Lewis regards social justice as a matter of life and death and said it's important to unite all community groups to tackle these issues.

"Bring the campus into the community and the community into the campus to give poverty a voice and activism a platform," he said. "You don't engage in self-censorship. Activism is a component of urban life. I urge you to plunge into every issue and to collaborate with others, the universe needs you. Please change it."

Lewis has been a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson since fall 2010. Part of his mandate is to deliver public lectures, along with teaching, advising and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of programs.

Ryerson provost and vice president academic Alan Shepard told the audience after Lewis' lecture that the distinguished visiting professor provides inspiration to the campus community.

"It's Stephen's conviction, resilience and courage we admire in trying to close those gaps between human rights statements and the reality that's out there," said Shepard. "Ryerson faculty and students are at the forefront of creating dialogue on and researching responses to health equity issues."

Lewis was speaking at the two-day conference 'Promoting Health Equity: Action on the Social Determinants of Health,' which gathered health and social service professionals, students, community and agency partners, researchers, academics, government, policy and decision makers to exchange knowledge on health equity and action on the social determinants of health across diverse communities.

The conference brought together professionals from across Canada and featured presentations, panel discussions and poster presentations about a variety of health issues such as violence against women and children, reducing mental health stigma in Ontario communities, developing an access and equity framework for LGBT-positive home care, and First Nations prenatal model development to reduce fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in at-risk populations.

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