Career & Education

Canadian university honours J'can woman

Sunday, October 29, 2017

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Canadian university York has awarded Ruseas High School alumna and social justice activist Angela Robertson with a Doctor of Laws.

The presentation took place last Thursday during fall convocation for the graduates of the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design, Faculty of Environmental Studies, and Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

She was one of four people the university conferred with honorary degrees during its fall convocation this year. The others were innovator, entrepreneur and visionary Vincent Tao; solicitor, developer, philanthropist and inspirational business leader Rudy Bratty; and corporate leader, investment guru and champion of gender equality Ronald Mock.

The university, from which Robertson earned her undergraduate degree, described her as a proponent of equity and justice, who embodies the principles of York University and is an inspiration for all members of society.

It also said Robertson was “dedicated to people and communities facing discrimination, poverty and marginalisation”, “a passionate feminist leader whose activism and career is focused on community support” and “the type of action-person that cities yearn to have on their frontlines”.

According to information on the university's website, Robertson worked as an editor of social issues manuscripts at Women's Educational Press, served as an advisor to the Minister Responsible for Women's Issues, was a manager at Homes First Society and the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, and was the executive director of Sistering – A Woman's Place for more than a decade. She has also served as director at Women's College Hospital, and is currently the executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre.

Robertson has been recognised with a number of awards for her work in areas of the feminisation of poverty, homelessness, LGBTQ rights, racism, and eliminating the stigma of HIV/AIDS. They include the Urban Alliance on Race Relations Award, the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for Social Change, the Rubena Willis Women of Distinction Award for work on violence against women, the Women's Post Top 20 Women of 2010 Award, and the Fred Victor Centre Mary Sheffield Award for work addressing poverty and homelessness in the City of Toronto. She has also been recognised by Toronto's NOW Magazine as one of the top 10 community activists on social justice issues and one of six Toronto LGBTQ heroes worth celebrating.

“History which is not unique to me – history of my great and grandmother and my mother, as the work that I do, and the impact I strive to have, is inextricably linked to their histories and the histories of other women across this city,” Robertson said in her convocation address according to a report on the university's website. “It is my relationship to this collective history that has shaped my commitment to social justice and striving always to create new ways of being in the world.”

Robertson grew up with her great grandmother and grandmother in Lucea, Hanover and attended Ruseas High School. Her grandmother went to work at 13 years of age tying and cutting sugar cane, cleaning houses and schools. Her mother left Jamaica for Toronto when Robertson was five years old to work as a domestic worker.

“In witnessing their struggles, I made a promise to myself, for the line of mothers and grandmothers that I would sign myself up wherever possible to fight and change those things that devalue women's, black, low-income and working people's lives, and produce poverty and shame; rage and illness; hurt and silence; inequality and injustice,” said Robertson.

She urged the graduates to join her and use their degrees to make an impact on the world.

“With your knowledge and the privilege of the degree we must band together to take actions big and small that will have an impact of creating more equity and justice,” said Robertson.

“It is in your interest to fight for a higher minimum wage; the organisation of work that reduces precarious working conditions; a social assistance system that enables people to move out of poverty; support for unions and unionisation because we know that there is a unionisation advantage for racialised and women workers,” she said.

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