By: Lavanya Kathirgamanathan
Zanana Akande is a woman who embodies bravery, power, and strength as she represents one of the many voices in Canada who created a diverse environment in the political world.
In 1937, Akande was born in the heart of Toronto, a city filled with diversity, innovation, and culture. While growing up in Toronto, Akande attended multiple post-secondary schools which included Harbord Collegiate, University of Toronto, and Ontario Institute for Studies and Education.
During her education timeline, Akande was also a member of The Federation of Women Teachers Associations of Ontario. In 1918, this federation was created in Ontario to represent women in the school systems. Akande is a figure who mobilizes increased political engagement and participation to make the lives of many free and fair. Her academic accolades and knowledge inspire many to push for social change.
Her parents immigrated from Saint Lucia and Barbados, where they pursued their careers working as teachers. Her parents’ success motivated Akande to pursue the same occupation in Canada. Inspired by her parents, Akande followed their passion and pursued her teaching career, working towards being a principal at Toronto District School Board (TDSB). While serving for the TDSB, Akande shared her prior knowledge on the disparities within the education system and created a program for students with special needs.
Her initiative to provide equal education for special needs students is important because it addresses the barriers disabled students face. Often, special needs students require additional programs such as remediation that are not provided with the appropriate budget and funding. Akande’s program aims to provide special needs students with the appropriate program and environment for students to excel academically.
Soon after becoming a principal, she was responsible for duties including overseeing the education agenda and mandate, focusing on equitable policy, and ensuring her students were situated in a positive and safe environment for academic success. From 1990 to 1994, Akande immersed herself into the political world where she served as a member of the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP). She represented the riding of St. Andrew-St. Patrick, and represented her cultural roots from where she grew up in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Soon after, Akande was appointed as Minister of Community and Social Services. With her duty as a Minister, she created economic change for those in low-income communities. Akande raised the rate of social assistance from 5 per cent to 7 per cent. Akande also increased the shelter allowance for those in need. Although she resigned as Minister of Community and Social Services in 1991, she was then the Parliamentary Assistant to Bob Rae to create and implement JOYP, Jobs Ontario Youth Programme, to provide younger adults with more opportunities to find jobs at their age and help them create a path for their future. In 1994, Akande decided to resign from her political journey due to a conflict arising over an investigation that took place involving a dispute with Ontario’s previous civil servant, Carlton Masters.
Zanana Akande notably became the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. She was also the first Black woman in Canada to serve as a Cabinet Minister in the country itself. This achievement inspired the Black community that a woman of colour can work in politics. Akande always believed in herself and took a step forward to create meaningful changes that helped others. This ended up making history in Canada, and will be remembered for future politicians in the Black community who want to immerse themselves in politics.
Since 2009, Akande has been retired and continues to share her knowledge in the political realm through volunteer work with local organizations, such as the YWCA and Centennial College. Her efforts to immerse herself into the environments where citizens lacked the appropriate assistance fueled her drive to allocate funds to food banks and policies aimed at achieving welfare benefits.
To learn more about Zanana Akande’s career history, click here.
Lavanya Kathirgamanathan is one of the Writers for this year’s publication at Black Voice. She’s a recent graduate from Toronto Metropolitan University, where she studied Journalism and will further her education in Human Resources at George Brown College. Lavanya has experience writing for multiple publications and has her own food blog on social media. Lavanya’s main goal as a writer for the Black Voice publication is to showcase Black excellence within the community, and in the city of Toronto.