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Viola Desmond Awards & Bursary Program


The annual Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Program celebrates the outstanding achievements of self-identified Black women who in their roles as students, staff, faculty and alumna, demonstrate that they are positive role models and advocates of the Black/African-Canadian community.

On March 22, we celebrated the 13th annual Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Ceremony

Watch this past event online

Media coverage 

2021 awards and bursary recipients 

Faculty award in honour of Dr. Notisha Massaquoi
Juanita Stephen

Staff award in honour of Ms. Joan Pierre
Sharmaine McKenzie

Student award in honour of Hon. Marlene Jennings
Pauline Mwangi 

Alumna award in honour of Dr. Daurene Lewis
Marci Ien

High school student awards in honour of Ms. Viola Desmond
Hannah Flores
Nephertari Marshall

Ryerson student bursary in honour of Ms. Viola Desmond
Nigeleen Nwakobi
Sojourner San Vicente

Greetings from Dr. Pamela Appelt, Patron of the Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Ceremony

Ryerson University has for the last 13 years chosen to honour and preserve the legacy of Viola Desmond, an outstanding Black Canadian woman whose contributions to human rights has enabled many citizens to follow in her footsteps.

It is my honour as Patron of the Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Ceremony, to be doing my part in keeping the legacy of this courageous Canadian alive. The honourees of the 13th Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Ceremony all represent what can happen when you direct your passion towards building a better future for all. As for the formidable award recipients, they are women who are putting their talents, skills and abilities towards being positive role models and advocates of the Black/African-Canadian community. I am so proud.

I want to also acknowledge the donors, sponsors and supporters who are contributing generously to support the next generation of leaders who follow in the footsteps of Viola Desmond. I also thank the volunteers and staff behind the scenes who have made this virtual event possible despite all of the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented them. 

Thank you to all of you for taking the time to join Ryerson at the 2021 ceremony, not only to honour Black excellence in Canada, but to take part in ensuring the contributions and stories of these women are heard, witnessed and celebrated.

Dr. Pamela Appelt, a patron of the Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary program


The OVPECI would like to thank and acknowledge the ongoing support from our donors, sponsors and organizing committee!


Ryerson is pleased to recognize the generosity of donors who have made a gift between January 2020 to present day:

  • Pamela Appelt
  • Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP
  • Pauline and Ross Bragdon
  • Marsha Brown
  • Shelly Cantley
  • Peter Dorton
  • Ross Mutton
  • Kathy Peter
  • Diane Sheppard   


Organizing committee

The 2021 Viola Desmond Awards and Bursary Program was organized by the Black History Awareness Committee and Ryerson’s Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion would like to acknowledge the committee’s enthusiasm, efforts and time to the program which is keeping Viola’s legacy alive for generations of Black women everywhere. 

Committee chair: Darrell Bowden

Event producer: Joan Pierre

Committee members: Beatriz Jereza, Crystal Mark, Deborah Silva de Jesus, Gregory John, Justin Lloyd, Marsha Brown, Olanike (Nikki) Waheed, Rahma Hilowle, Melissa Yu Vanti, Jeanette Reyes, Jermaine Bagnell, Saif Ahmed, Shurla Charles-Forbes, Smiksha Singla

Learn more about the 2021 award honourees and recipients

Award honourees

Notisha Massaquoi has been a powerful advocate for advancements in Canadian Black women's healthcare for over 30 years. Her early career established several organizations which served Black communities in Canada, including Africans in Partnership Against AIDS, the African Resource and Communications Centre, and Harambe Centres Black Family Counselling Program. She designed health programs and served for two decades as the Executive Director of Women's Health in Women's Hands Community Health Centre in Toronto, the only community health centre in North America which provides specialized primary healthcare for Black and racialized women. 

She has consulted globally for the United Nations Social Development Council on racism and its impact on workforces.  Notisha is considered one of Canada's leading experts in developing equity responsive organizations. She has served on numerous local, provincial and national committees to address systemic anti-Black racism in Canada. She most recently co-chaired the Anti-Racism Advisory Panel of the Toronto Police Services Board and was responsible for producing the first mandatory race-based data collection policy for a police service in Canada. She has also served as a board trustee for many organizations to ensure anti-Black racism is at the forefront of governance in Canadian institutions such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research and the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Dr. Notisha Massaquoi, 2021 Viola Desmond Awards honouree

Joan Pierre has had a multi-faceted career, working as a consultant, producer, event planner, marketer, creative/artistic director and production/stage manager. She has led the design, planning and implementation of many events including Caribana, the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s 50th reunion, the Afro-Anglican Conference, the African Canadian Achievement Awards, York University’s Ethnic Studies Conference, Cuttin’ Style Fashion Show and the African Heritage Music Festival in New Orleans. 

Joan also spent over a decade at Bell Canada in management positions and developed a certificate program in event planning/management for York University. She holds a diploma in production/stage management in television arts from Ryerson University.


Joan Pierre, previous Viola Desmond Awards honouree

Daurene Lewis was a Canadian politician and educator. She was the first Black female mayor in Canada, winning the election in her hometown of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, which only had 13 Black residents at the time. Dr. Lewis has received several distinctions throughout her lifetime, including the United Nations Global Citizenship Award, the Canadian Progress Club Halifax Woman of Excellence award, the Halifax-Cornwallis Women of Excellence Award for Public Affairs and Communication, the YMCA-YWCA Volunteer Award, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Black Business and Professional Association’s Harry Jerome Trailblazer Award. Daurene is also recognized on the wall of honour of Nova Scotia Black Cultural Centre. In 2002, she was made a member of the Order of Canada.

Dr. Daurene Lewis, 2021 Viola Desmond Awards honouree

Marlene Jennings is a retired lawyer and former Member of Parliament who is a valued contributor to Quebec's English-speaking community on issues ranging from education to health and access to justice. She was the first Black woman from Quebec to be elected into Parliament where she represented the riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine from 1997 to 2011. During her tenure in the House of Commons, she was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation and Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada. From 2004 to 2005, she was Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister with a special emphasis on Canada-U.S. relations. 

In 2020, Marlene was elected President of the Quebec Community Groups Network which advocates for the rights of Quebec's English-speaking minority. Prior to that, she was the government appointed trustee at the English Montreal School Board where she accompanied the board in implementing governance reforms. In 2015, she chaired the Elections Systems Study Panel which handed down recommendations aimed at protecting the constitutional rights of English-speaking Quebecers. Marlene currently sits on the “Comité consultatif sur la Réalité policière” that conducted consultations as part of a larger effort to modernize Quebec's police forces


The Honourable Marlene Jennings, 2021 Viola Desmond Awards honouree

Award recipients

As a Black woman and the mother of a teenage son, Juanita Stephen’s commitments to the safety and wellness of her community inform everything she does. At present, she is a part-time lecturer in the School of Child and Youth Care in the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson and a PhD student at York University in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies. Her research focuses on Black feminist practices of care. 

Juanita is also the Executive Director of the Child and Youth Care Alliance for Racial Equity (CARE), an organization which she co-founded in 2017 with the intention to disrupt the erasure of BIPoC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) folks in child and youth care education. It has since developed into an organization supporting efforts toward racial justice in youth-serving institutions throughout Ontario. 

Juanita’s work reflects her commitments to living in respectful, reciprocal relationship with the earth, its inhabitants and the ancestors; to challenging all systems and forms of domination that result in oppression, exclusion and violence; and to working continually toward a world in which her children are safe, valued and free.

Juanita Stephen, recipient of the Ryerson faculty award in honour of Dr. Notisha Massaquoi 
Juanita Stephen

Sharmaine McKenzie is the Executive Director, Strategic Initiatives and Operations in the Faculty of Law at Ryerson. She has been instrumental in operationalizing the vision of Ryerson Law and building the infrastructure required to launch a different kind of law school, one that is reimagining legal education in pursuit of a more just society and driving the legal profession to become more equitable, diverse and inclusive.

While serving in leadership roles at Ryerson for well over a decade before joining the Faculty of Law, Sharmaine was a member of the founding executive team for the Ryerson Black Faculty and Staff Community Network. In this capacity, she served as conference convenor for the first-ever Anti-Black Racism Conference held in Toronto as well as the Akua Benjamin Legacy Project. She also served as Congress 2017’s Operational Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Sharmaine is known for her people-first leadership style and for leading inclusive teams. She has always been focused on developing people and putting the necessary systems in place to help both the individual and institution succeed. For her many achievements—both individually and collectively as part of a team—Sharmaine was recognized as one of the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women in 2020. During her time at Ryerson, she has been awarded two President’s Blue and Gold Awards of Excellence, the Linda Grayson Administrative Leadership Award and the Dean’s Excellence Award.

Sharmaine McKenzie, recipient of the Ryerson staff award in honour of Ms. Joan Pierre

Marci Ien is a devoted mother, award-winning journalist, Ryerson graduate, author and member of Parliament for Toronto Centre who has dedicated her life to providing a voice for those who need it most. Born in St. Jamestown and raised in Toronto, where she lives with her children Blaize and Dash, Marci has seen first-hand the opportunities and challenges our city faces. Shei is a passionate advocate for vulnerable communities in Canada and around the world.

Today, she serves as the voice of Toronto Centre constituents as the only Black woman in the House of Commons. She is dedicated to fighting for inclusion, equality and ensuring that everyone in Toronto Centre and across Canada have a fair chance at success.

Marci Ien, recipient of the Ryerson alumna award in honour of Dr. Daurene Lewis

Pauline Mwangi is a student in the Disability Studies program in the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson. A passionate community leader and developmental service worker, she became one of the directors for Hope Community Development International Toronto, where she spearheaded a food bank dedicated to eliminating hunger in Toronto. She is the founder and president of the Kenyan Women Association in Canada, a registered non-profit community organization, as well as the co-founder of the Hope and Vision School in Kenya, which is located in her hometown, Kasarani. In the Ryerson community, she currently sits at the Human Rights Committee Review board, and is a council member for the Student Alumni Advisory Committee (SAAC). 

Pauline is an upcoming author of a new book, “Clarity: Ignite the Power Within You”, which focuses on her lived experiences as an immigrant from Kenya, and highlights the importance of embracing your unique personal story and social location. As an active community leader in both Canada and Kenya, Pauline aims to make systemic changes by using her voice for issues regarding women’s rights, immigration, homelessness, mental health, HIV/AIDS, developmental disabilities and immigration.

Pauline Mwangi, recipient of the Ryerson student award in honour of Marlene Jennings.

Hannah Flores is a grade 12 honours student at Markham District High School. For the last seven years, it has been her goal to make a difference in her community and globally. Hannah has led her school’s Spoken Word Poetry Chapter and Multicultural Awareness Club to foster students’ voices across York Region. She has also organized fundraisers for Sick Kids Hospital and the Yellow Brick House Shelter. 

Hannah has also created films that have acquired thousands of views on topics like Black history, and staying hopeful during the pandemic. Her work has been included in a number of film festival titles, and garnered her several CBC Radio interviews. Springboarding from the unexpected success of her films, she launched the podcast: Punchline! with hannahfloresthepoet, external link, with the goal of socially connecting youth in isolation by interviewing guest students. 

Hannah is currently working on a film project called “Stolen People, Stolen Land” in partnership with the City of Toronto. Through these experiences, Hannah not only inspires others, but creates connection with people all over the world. Hannah will be studying at the University of Toronto starting in the fall of 2021.

Hannah Flores, recipient of the high school student award in honour of Ms. Viola Desmond

Nephertari Marshall is a grade 12 French immersion student who attends Pierre Elliot Trudeau High School. She is a part of several school clubs, including peer tutoring and Trudettes, a feminist club. She is a member of several organizations, including the Leadership by Design Program. Nephertari has dedicated over 270 hours to her community by volunteering with several organizations, including YRAACC, ERA, Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA, along with others. 

Nephertari has dedicated much of her life to volunteering, to which she credits her family who taught her the importance of giving back from a young age. She is an innovative leader who advocates for the Black community in her community and works to create change and promote dialogue within her community. Nephertari plans to attend university in the fall of 2021 with a focus on health and life sciences and aspires to pursue a career in medicine. She hopes to dedicate her future to fighting against racial injustice and promoting inclusion, human rights and equity.

Nephertari Marshall, recipient of the high school student award in honour of Ms. Viola Desmond

Student bursary recipients

Nigeleen Nwakobi is a fourth-year student in the Industrial Engineering Program in the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Sciences at Ryerson. She is passionate about addressing the lack of female and Black representation within engineering. Nigeleen hopes to continue to break the glass ceiling for the next generation of engineers, and inspire others to approach engineering with an intersectional lens. 

As an advocate for creating inclusive projects and safe spaces for women and BIPOC students, Nigeleen joined the National Society of Black Engineers this year as an Executive Secretary. She is also part of the Anti-Black Racism Advisory Committee, where she hopes to increase the sense of belonging, representation, and community for Black students at Ryerson. Nigeleen is honoured to be a recipient of this year’s student bursary, and hopes that her continued efforts to work on projects of inclusion within and outside the Ryerson community will encourage other Black women to do the same.

Nigeleen Nwakobi, recipient of the Ryerson student bursary in honour of Ms. Viola Desmond

Sojourner San Vicente is a third-year student in the Midwifery Education Program in the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson. Prior to the commencement of her midwifery studies, she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from McMaster University. While there, she led the ‘Women in Leadership’ themed residence, for which she was recognized by McMaster in 2015 with an award in community development. 

Sojourner has worked on various volunteer projects within African, Caribbean and Black communities in Toronto and across Canada. This includes volunteering as a translator with the Haitian Consulate in Toronto, leading the youth agricultural program at Lawrence Heights Community Centre and serving as an ambassador for Toronto’s steelpan community. 

As a midwifery student, Sojourner is one of the founding members of Ryerson Midwifery’s BIPOC Collective. She annually participates in accompanying midwifery faculty to the University of Toronto’s Summer Mentorship Program where she engages with youth who are interested in pursuing healthcare professions. She is currently leading the ‘Learn More Ontario Midwifery’ project which aims to increase awareness about midwifery care in Ontario and the visibility of Black midwives, students and clients in the midwifery community. She is particularly invested in increasing awareness of midwifery care to Black Canadians and encouraging Black youth to consider midwifery as a profession. She has eternal gratitude to her parents for their love and wisdom, and dedicates her work to honouring Black communities and Black midwives who have and continue to pave the way.

Sojourner San Vicente, recipient of the Ryerson student bursary in honour of Ms. Viola Desmond