Making the world a better place

Two young women follow path of Lincoln Alexander by promoting racial harmony

Kike Ojo and Manprit Virdi share a common goal: They believe they can change the world.

In fact, these two young women have already made a difference through their exhaustive work in encouraging racial unity and eliminating discrimination.

As a result, Ojo and Virdi are recipients of the 2000 Lincoln M. Alexander Awards. The women were honoured yesterday at a Queen’s Park ceremony attended by Lieutenant-Governor Hilary Weston and Alexander, a former lieutenant-governor.

“Combatting racism and discrimination is among the most important tasks facing society today,” said Alexander. He and Weston presented each recipient with a framed scroll and a cheque for $2,500.

“These young people take action. They don’t just sit around and complain, they do something,” he said.

The awards to promote racial harmony, which began in 1993, are named after Alexander – Ontario’s 24th lieutenant-governor from 1985 to 1991 – for his lifelong contribution to human rights.

Ojo, 24, of Mississauga was chosen for the community category after a panel of judges reviewed more than 50 applicants.

As a child, she attended meetings in Toronto with her father about apartheid, and by high school had founded and chaired Unity, an anti-racism education organization.

But it was Ojo’s personal encounter with racism that first motivated her.

“My family had moved to Mississauga from Scarborough when I was in Grade 7 and there was not a lot of diversity then,” she said. “I experienced flagrant, overt racism – name-calliing – so I responded by writing an article in the school newspaper.”

Ten years later, Ojo incorporates her philosophy of racial diversity into her everyday life teaching at Sheridan College and still participates in Unity.

“I teach psychology and international business, but as an educator it’s my responsibility to help students explore and expand their awareness of issues affecting equality.”

The secondary school category was won by Virdi, a Whitby resident.

The 17-year-old student devoted countless hours to ethnocultural activities and helped develop a resource document for the Durham District School Board on hate motivation and acts of discrimination.

“I really got interested in cultural diversity when I started dancing – Indian cultural dancing,” she said.

In the future, Virdi said, she wants to take her message of ethnocultural diversity to the education field.

“Maybe I’ll become the minister of education so I can make changes that matter in education,” she said. “Especially since school shapes the minds of the future.”

Originally published in The Toronto Star on June 7, 2000