Alumni Spotlights

Black scholars, students, and alumni have been influential in shaping Canada’s history, achieving both provincial and national firsts, sharing their groundbreaking expertise, and working to uplift the whole people through their work within the broader community. In honour of Black History Month, we recognize some of our grads who are doing great things in Alberta and beyond.

Idara Effiom

Idara Effiom

’20 BA

Effiom wants to see individuals from minority groups thrive. In her various roles, Effiom has worked with hundreds of newcomers to Canada, helping to facilitate their transition and ensuring they are equipped with the skills needed to succeed.

Community and collaboration have always been a priority for Effiom, and a part of her work aims to help decriminalize poverty through projects like providing healthy and culturally appropriate food to those experiencing food insecurity. During the COVID-19 pandemic Effiom headed the Bethel Pantry, Edmonton's first dignity led pantry, that provided food to over 100 families weekly. The Bethel Food Pantry won the Human Rights Champion award from John Humphrey Centre For Peace & Human Rights in 2021, and Effiom developed and presented a toolkit on how to manage a dignity led food pantry at the National food roundtable.

Effiom also manages the Experiential Learning in Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (ELITE) Program for Black Youth, where she helps the next generation of Black scholars gain experience working in STEM fields. In 2023, Effiom presented at the Canadian Higher Education Information Technology (CANHEIT) conference, educating IT professionals from across Canada's higher education sector on how to ensure proper internationalization in post secondary institutions.

In 2023 Effiom was a recipient of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation Top 30 Under 30 award and the Youth Excellence Award from National Black Coalition of Canada (NBCC).

Omayra Issa

Omayra Issa

’14 BA

As Saskatchewan's national reporter for CBC/Radio-Canada, Omayra Issa is changing the way complex stories are being shared with the nation.

When Omayra Issa came to Canada at 16 from Niger, in West Africa, she didn’t see anyone that looked like her represented in traditional media outlets. So she decided to do something about it.

After graduating from Economics and English at the U of A in 2014, Issa helped lead Black on the Prairies, a CBC storytelling project and teaching guide that looks at the past, present and future of Black people in the Prairie provinces. The project won several accolades, including a national Radio Television Digital News Association award.

It was important for Issa to bring new perspectives and voices to the conversation, and engage communities to tell their stories. Her guidance has helped shape national conversations around inclusion and diversity in newsrooms, and has contributed to combating online hate and harassment against journalists. Issa received the U of A’s 2022 Alumni Award, and is currently the 2022-2023 CBC/Radio-Canada Fellow, a part of the William Southam Journalism Fellowships at Massey College.

Sarah Adomako-Ansah

Sarah Adomako-Ansah

’13 BEd

“I feel very hopeful. I feel like change is not a bad word right now. It’s a good word.”

Already a leader in her classroom, teacher Sarah Adomako-Ansah is expanding those skills both professionally and in the community, co-founding the Black Teachers’ Association of Alberta and working towards becoming a principal.

Sarah Adomako-Ansah was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. She holds a Bachelor of Education from the University of Alberta. She has been teaching with Edmonton Catholic School Division since April of 2013 and is working to become a Principal in the Division. Sarah is a lead tutor with the Council of Canadians of African and Caribbean Heritage (CCACH) and, alongside Andrew Parker, is the co-founder of the Black Teachers’ Association of Alberta.

Temitope Oriola

Temitope Oriola

’11 PhD

Oriola is a voice for human rights. Changing preconceived notions and influencing government policies along the way.

Oriola is a professor of criminology and sociology, and associate dean in the Faculty of Arts, with research focusing on the ascendance of terrorism and extremism. He investigates the aetiology of political kidnappings in his book Criminal Resistance? The Politics of Kidnapping Oil Workers. A recognized Canadian expert on police reform, he has served as special adviser to the Government of Alberta on Police Act Review and produced recommendations that were passed into law through The Police Amendment Act in 2022. The new law heralds the most significant set of changes to policing in Alberta in the last 30 years.

The 2023 Alumni Honour Award recipient has gone the extra mile as a public intellectual, translating his research into information that is digestible and relatable for everyone.

Oriola’s research is recognized nationally and internationally. He has been elected to the top leadership positions of two major scholarly associations across two disciplines in Canada. Oriola is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal, the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA) Distinguished Academic Award, the Gerald L. Gall Human Rights Award, the Rosalind Smith Award and the Governor General of Canada Academic Gold Medal, among several other awards and recognitions within and outside Canada.

Samuel Óghale Oboh

Samuel Óghale Oboh

’10 MA

“It is a time to reflect and share our collective experiences”

Creating beautiful buildings and sustainable environments not only enhances people’s quality of life but can break down barriers, as architect Samuel Oboh has demonstrated. As the first Canadian of African descent to be elected President of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Oboh uses good design as a tool to foster social equity and transformative change in our society. 

Born in Nigeria, architect Samuel Óghale Oboh is a principal at Edmonton-based Ensight+ Architecture. A distinguished Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and the 2015 President of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), Oboh became the first Canadian of African descent to lead the 114-year-old royal institute. He has successfully designed, managed and delivered several projects in Canada and internationally — including the multibillion-dollar Alberta Legislature Centre Redevelopment Project — where, as lead architect, he led and contributed to capturing the spirit of Alberta’s most significant heritage site in a variety of creative and innovative forms. A former Vice-President-Architecture at a Fortune 500 Company and recipient of several awards and recognitions including the AIA President’s medal in 2015 and the 2016 Excellence Magazine Award for Leadership, Oboh is an adjunct design studio reviewer and lecturer to several universities around the world and the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Botswana in Canada.

Morẹ́nikẹ́ Ọláòṣebìkan’s

Morẹ́nikẹ́ Ọláòṣebìkan

’09 BSc(Pharm)

Ọláòṣebìkan is a self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur, troublemaker and maker of things." Ọláòṣebìkan has used her skills and training as a pharmacist to understand where gaps in care exist for marginalized groups, and how to close those gaps.

Ọláòṣebìkan founded the Ribbon Rouge Foundation while completing her undergraduate degree. The fundraiser helped support those living with HIV, and has since grown into an international organization that works for health equity in Canada and has special consultative status with the United Nations.

After traveling throughout Africa and realizing how seeing the inequities in the drug distribution systems, Ọláòṣebìkan founded Kemet Group, a startup that aims to boost drug-manufacturing capacity and increase accessibility in African countries. This project also lead Ọláòṣebìkan to build a software platform that tackled an immediate crisis in children’s pain medication as part of its larger work to reformulate drugs to improve patient experiences.

For her commitment to increasing equity through innovative health solutions, Ọláòṣebìkan received an Alumni Horizon Award in 2023.

Andrew Parker

Andrew Parker

’08 BA, ’14 BEd

“My challenge to our city is — I already know it's a great city — how can we lead by example for the rest of the nation. How can Edmonton lead by example?”

From inspiring Edmontonians last June with his speech at the Black Lives Matter rally, to co-founding the Black Teachers’ Association and founding streetball tournament Pride of the Northside, teacher, athlete and activist Andrew Parker is a committed force for community empowerment.

As the son of Jamaican and Grenadian parents, husband and father of two, and proud member of the North Edmonton community, creating and locating opportunities for community connection has been a major focus for Andrew Parker. From his work in Edmonton’s schools, to the youth outreach tournament called Pride Of The Northside, the two-time grad and Golden Bears basketball veteran knows how to bring people together. And he continued to do so this summer when he spoke at a rally for Black and Indigenous rights in Edmonton. A teacher, Parker was proud to see many of his students and former students there. It got him thinking about mentorship, and he knew it was time to take action. He and fellow teacher Sarah Adomako-Ansah, formed the Black Teachers’ Association of Alberta to improve representation, communication, inclusion and networking for Black teachers. In bringing together this group, he’s still maintained the belief that community is a shared experience and shared responsibility - so he often shares his thanks with all allies of all colours for the work being done to help make our communities more inclusive.

Titilope Sonuga

Titilope Sonuga

’08 BSc(CivEng)

“I never walk into a space and feel like I don’t deserve to be there.”

Too often words go unsaid, but spoken-word poet Titilope Sonuga, has always found an audience. From inspiring females in STEM, to addressing a nation, her experiences speak to the importance of presence.

As a poet, a writer and a performer, Titilope Sonuga knows artful communication is integral to who she is. Even while she was building roads as a civil engineer, she found herself writing poems in the borders of design drawings in the middle of construction sites. It became clear that poetry wasn't just a hobby, so she took a chance on herself and her art. Through her practice, she grasps for moments of tenderness and persistent joy at the intersection of blackness and womanhood. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Down to Earth (2011), Abscess (2014) and This Is How We Disappear (2019) and has released two spoken word albums, Mother Tongue (2011) and Swim (2019). Titilope is the writer of three plays, The Six; an intergenerational exploration of womanhood, Naked; a one-woman play and Ada The Country, a musical. She has facilitated numerous youth and adult poetry workshops locally and internationally. She also co-founded the Breath In Poetry performance collective in Edmonton. In 2015, Sonuga was the first poet to perform at a Nigerian presidential inauguration ceremony. She has been a TEDx speaker in Edmonton and an Intel Corporation ambassador for its She Will Connect program, which encourages young women to pursue careers in engineering, science and technology. She plays a lead role on a Nigerian TV show called Gidi Up. In the decade that she has dedicated herself to her art, Sonuga has ultimately taken a journey to finding her true self.

Malcolm Azania

Malcolm Azania

’91 BA, ’94 BEd

Under the pen name Minister Faust, Malcolm Azania has explored galaxies far beyond our own, while looking to a future in which we can aim for not only social justice, but “for the stars.”

Malcom Azania’s work as a science fiction writer has explored ancient African civilizations, present day Edmonton and new, undiscovered alien worlds. For Azania, the common thread between the work is trying to understand how we can make ourselves and our world better.

The 2018 Alumni Honour Award recipient founded CJSR's Africentric Radio, Canada's longest running African news and public affairs program, and hosted the MF Galaxy podcast, which covered the craft and business of writing and story creation. His 2011 TEDx talk, The Cure for Death by Smalltalk, currently has more than 800,000 views.

Azania is currently finishing the graphic novel adaptation to his first novel, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, as part of his on-going work showcasing the dynamism of his beloved home city amiskwaciwaskahikan (Edmonton). He was also the 2014-2015 writer in residence at the U of A, works as a playwright and has co-written several video games.

For Azania, "all of it is storytelling. The venue doesn't matter."

Erasmus Okine

Erasmus Okine

’90 PhD
Honour Award

For agricultural scientist Erasmus Okine, collaboration has been the key to success in many fields.

Erasmus Okine’s success in the field of agriculture has changed the way people around the world eat. His research has led to the development of CowBytes, a tool that helps cattle producers create more effective and efficient feeding programs, and shows promise in helping reduce methane emissions.

As an award-winning U of A professor and currently the provost and vice-president (Academic) at the University of Lethbridge. He helped secure an additional seven research chairs in 2015-2016 to exceed the aspirational goal of 50 Research Chairs by the University’s 50th anniversary in 2017, including securing a Canada 150 Research Chair. Over the years, Okine has garnered over $25 million in research funding and has mentored over 42 PhD and MSc students.

For his leadership in agricultural research, Okine has received a number of awards during his career, including the U of A’s 2021 Alumni Honour Award, Alberta Premier’s Silver Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research, being named a Fellow of the Canadian Society of Animal Science and a Fellow of the International College of Nutrition.

Anthony Fields

Anthony Fields

’74 MD

“You have given me a torch of understanding...”

Cancer does not discriminate, nor does physician and researcher Anthony Fields. Inspired and touched by the journey of each patient, this Order of Canada recipient has positively affected cancer care in Alberta more than anyone in recent memory.

A member of the Order of Canada, Tony Fields' entire career has been devoted to improving the care and treatment provided to people living with cancer. In the words of Lorne Tyrrell, director of the U of A's Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, Tony Fields "has affected cancer care in Alberta more than any other individual in recent memory." Born and raised in Barbados, Fields studied natural sciences at the University of Cambridge and graduated from the U of A's Faculty of Medicine in 1974. At Alberta Health Services, he was responsible for the province's tertiary and associate cancer centres, community oncology programs and cancer research programs. At Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute, where Fields also served as director, he specialized in the treatment of patients with gastrointestinal cancers. He also served as vice-president of medical affairs and community oncology with the Alberta Cancer Board, is a past president of the National Cancer Institute of Canada and the Canadian Association of Medical Oncologists, and is serving as MacEwan University's first chancellor.

Selwyn Jacob

Selwyn Jacob

’70 BEd

I feel I’ve contributed to the continuing evolution of what it means to be a Canadian.

History demands perspective, and from the lens of his camera, award winning documentarian Selwyn Jacob has preserved and brought to light Canada’s Black histories.

Selwyn Jacob is an award-winning filmmaker with a commitment to telling important narratives with a social impact. He produced close to 50 films during his 22 years with the National Film Board. Jacob, who was born in Trinidad, came to Canada in the 1960’s with the dream of becoming a filmmaker. In 1991, he was one of three filmmakers invited by the National Film Board of Canada to create projects that could be used in schools to discuss racism and discrimination. The result: the film “Carol’s Mirror” - a short that focused on a young Black girl who wanted to play Snow White in her school concert. He’s described this opportunity as a pioneering one - as it marked a pivotal moment when non-white filmmakers were given the opportunity to write and direct a story of their own creation from their own perspective. Other films have included his first, “We Remember Amber” - inspired by his time teaching in rural Alberta, the documentary highlighted the world’s most northern Black community of settlers and the policies that both brought them to Canada and prevented others from continuing to join them. He joined the National Film Board’s BC & Yukon Studio in 1997, his many producing credits include “Crazywater'', directed by Inuvialuit filmmaker Dennis Allen; “Hue: A Matter of Colour”, directed by Vic Sarin; “Mighty Jerome”, written and directed by Charles Officer. Jacob’s most recent feature documentary credits include Mina Shum’s “Ninth Floor”, about the infamous Sir George Williams Riot of 1969 that was selected to TIFF’s 2015 annual top ten list of best Canadian films. As a documentarian, he’s preserved and brought to light the stories of Canada’s histories.

Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Violet King

Violet King

’52 BA, ’53 LLB

“People told me it wasn’t a good idea— so I went ahead”

The only woman in her graduating Law class, Violet King was a leader with every step she took. From her time as the U of A Students' Union Vice-president to the moment when she became Canada's first Black female lawyer, her story continues to lead us all forward.

Violet King began her studies at the U of A in 1948, graduated with a BA in 1952, and then entered law school, one of only three women in a student body of 142. During her time as a student, she was vice-president of the Students’ Union and class historian. King received her law degree in 1953 and was called to the bar June 2, 1954, two weeks after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which declared separate schooling for blacks and whites unconstitutional.

King practised criminal law and worked for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa. In 1963, she moved to the United States to take on the role of associate general secretary of the YW-YMCA in Newark, N.J. Her job focused on assisting black applicants in their employment searches. In 1969, she moved to the Chicago YMCA to become the director of manpower, planning and staff development. In 1976, she became the first woman named to a senior management position with the American national YMCA organization.

Violet King died of cancer in 1981, leaving a legacy her pioneering grandparents would undoubtedly be proud of.