Ryerson women honoured at Viola Desmond awards

The winners from this year's Viola Desmond awards. Left to right: Omnia Abdorbo, Nicole Neverson, Marwa Ahmed, Keitha Prospere, Anisa Hassan and Hoda Abdel-Gaber. (Erica Huculak/The Ryersonian)

Five females were honoured Monday night, at Ryerson’s sixth annual Viola Desmond Day Awards ceremony.

Viola Desmond was an African-Canadian, who in 1946 was prosecuted for sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theatre.

Every year, Ryerson celebrates her legacy by awarding black females of the community for their continuing efforts in shaping black history.

Each award is named after historical Canadian black women who have led by example within the black community.

One of the evening’s winners was fourth-year criminology student, Anisa Hassan.

Hassan won the Zanana Akande award for her countless endeavours including raising an estimated $10 million with Feed Somalia, an initiative she co-created.

After a tearful acceptance speech, Hassan dedicated her award to her mom.

“It’s more hers than it is mine, because I am a product of her upbringing, patience and greatness, ” she said.

The Anne Greenup Faculty award was given to sociology professor Nicole Neverson.

Neverson said this award is a confirmation that people are aware of the work she is doing.

“This award is about visibility and knowing my work matters,” she said.

International Student Services administrator, Keitha Prospere, won the Andrea Elaine Lawrence Staff Award. Prospere says her work is fuelled with the passion to ensure that international students at Ryerson share the positive experience she had when she was an international student herself.

Hoda Abdel-Gabar, a Grade 12 high school student from Oakwood Collegiate, won the Viola Desmond award. She was also the recipient of one of two Viola Desmond bursaries handed out.

The second Viola Desmond bursary was awarded to third-year Ryerson University social work student, Omnia Abdorbo.

But the surprise of the night occurred when one of the event staff, graduating student Marwa Ahmed, was awarded with a Viola Desmond bursary of her own.

Ahmed spoke to the audience of her admiration for this celebration and her enjoyment of working with the office of equity, diversity and inclusion during her time as a Ryerson student. She also spoke highly of the impact Viola Desmond had on this country, calling her “the Rosa Parks of Canada.”

Award-winning R&B artist Renee “Shi” Wisdom was in attendance and performed her new song Penny, dedicating it to black females everywhere.

“Even a penny is worth something,” she said.

Ryerson’s Black History Awareness Committee facilitated the event, along with the help of the office of equity diversity and inclusion.

Denise O’Neil Green, associate vice-president of equity diversity and inclusion, said that Desmond’s actions have impacted society.

“She left a legacy for women, especially black women, and how they can contribute to society to make it a more inclusive place for everyone,” she said.

This awards ceremony is annually scheduled for the first Monday of March with the intention of continuing the conversation about black history beyond the month of February.

The Viola Desmond Day awards ceremony transitions the discussion about women and their success into Ryerson’s International Women’s Day celebrations, happening all across campus beginning Wednesday.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 5, 2014.