‘A powerful source of inspiration’: U of T community members celebrated at African Scholars Awards

photo of Amal Mohamoud in coversation at the African Scholars Awards
Amal Mohamoud, who is graduating with a master’s degree in social work from U of T’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, was among the U of T community members recognized at the GOWN: African Scholars Awards (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Rahul Kalvapalle

For Amal Mohamoud, contributing to mental health awareness and advocacy is a mission with roots in personal tragedy.

After suffering the loss of her mother Hana to suicide, Mohamoud was determined to foster dialogue and tackle stigma around mental illness, including by sharing her story in a candid episode of The Digital Sisterhood podcast, titled “Her Name is Hana,” that reached nine million listeners across 147 countries.

Mohamoud’s efforts to channel grief into advocacy were recently recognized with an Outstanding Recent Alumni Award, one of 17 awards presented by the University of Toronto African Alumni Association during the seventh annual GOWN: African Scholars Awards at Massey College.

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“I feel honoured that, in the midst of sadness and struggle, I found a way to honour my mom and ensure that her story was heard,” said Mohamoud, a mother of two who is graduating with a master’s degree in social work from U of T’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and looks forward to working as a counsellor and therapist.

She added she feels grateful to be in the company of a diverse range of scholars of African descent. “I feel privileged because many of them are my professors that I’ve learned from," she says.

Among the professors celebrated at the event was Rhonda McEwen, president and vice-chancellor of Victoria University in the University of Toronto, who received a Distinguished Influencers Award.

“I always live by the saying that, ‘To be a leader, you should know the way, go the way and show the way’ – but among people of African descent, sometimes we have to make the way,” said McEwen, a professor at U of T Mississauga’s Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology and in the Faculty of Information. “To be named an influencer in a time where I have had to make the way feels really good and I’m very honoured.”

Ahmed Ilmi, an assistant professor, teaching stream, in U of T Scarborough’s department of global development studies, said he was excited to be recognized with a Community Development Award. “It’s important that we work through community and give students who lack access the opportunity to get a world-class education that is imaginative, innovative and incredibly engaging."

Ilmi said he was especially delighted to be able to share the occasion with his family and children, who accompanied him at the awards ceremony. “I brought the next generation to inspire them and to chart the path,” he said.

For Glen Boothe, who received a Distinguished African-Caribbean Award in recognition of his work as co-founder of U of T's Black History Month Luncheon, the most meaningful honour was being able to gather with scholars, friends and allies from across the U of T community.

"I know I just received an award and that's nice, but honestly the thing for me is that this gathering is a reward – just being amongst these exemplars of excellence in one room is the reward for me," said Boothe, who has worked in U of T’s Division of University Advancement for more than two decades.

U of T President Meric Gertler hailed the contributions of all the award winners in a video message.

“Our African Scholars Award winners are making extraordinary contributions in everything from research, teaching and innovation to volunteerism, advocacy and community development,” President Gertler said. 

“Your impact and influence are felt widely in the Toronto region and around the world, and you are a powerful source of inspiration not only for Africans and people of African descent, but for everyone at U of T.”

Group photo of African Scholar Award recipients
(photo by Johnny Guatto)

Henry Ssali, founder and executive director of the U of T African Alumni Association, thanked U of T for its continued support of the event.

"The only one of its kind in North America, The GOWN has become the most anticipated celebration of African excellence in Toronto," Ssali said. "Our African community is privileged to enjoy the full support of the university, Massey College and our U of T affinity groups."

Here is the complete list of 2024 African Scholars Awards recipients:

  • Outstanding Recent Alumni Awards: Amal Mohamoud, Justina Kanza
  • Social Innovation Awards: Rosie Mensah, Pako Tshiamala
  • Community Development Awards: Nancy Berinyuy Tahmo, Ahmed Ilmi
  • Global Impact Awards: Liliane Nkunzimana, Templar Kalundu Iga
  • Emerging Academic Awards: Chukwunonso Nwabufo, Otuto Amarauche Chukwu, Fasika Woldesenbet
  • Distinguished Volunteer Award: Racheal Kalaba
  • Distinguished African-Caribbean Awards: Glen Boothe, Cindy Ruvashtre Sinclair
  • Distinguished Influencers Awards: Rhonda McEwen, Kofi Achampong
  • Eminent Honorary Award: Charles Arthur Downes