June 29, 2023

Influential community leaders honoured at 2023 Calgary Black Achievement Awards

UCalgary members among those recognized for remarkable societal impact
(from the left) Samuel Adeyemi, Ezeoha Santiago, Sinit Abraha, Simone Elizabeth Saunders, Dr. Malinda Smith, Jacqueline Musabende , Dr. Charles Odame-Ankrah, Gladys Afolayan, Gar Gar
Calgary Black Chambers

Four University of Calgary members were recently recognized for outstanding leadership, community engagement, and personal and professional achievements during the Calgary Black Chambers’ third annual Calgary Black Achievement Awards.

Honoured at the June 9 ceremony were Dr. Malinda Smith, PhD, UCalgary’s vice-provost and associate vice-president research (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) (EDI) and a professor of political science; Dr. Charles Odame-Ankrah, PhD’15, an air quality research chemist with the Faculty of Science; Sinit Abraha, BA’23, a recent political science graduate; and Ezeoha Santiago, BComm’23, a member of the Dinos basketball team.

  • Photo above: (from the left) Samuel Adeyemi, Ezeoha Santiago, Sinit Abraha, Simone Elizabeth Saunders, Malinda Smith, Jacqueline Musabende, Charles Odame-Ankrah, Gladys Afolayan, Gar Gar
Malinda Smith

Malinda Smith.

Calgary Black Chambers

Malinda Smith

Smith received the Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honour of the evening. The recipients of this award are “consistently [using] their platform to advocate for change, challenge systemic injustices and inspire others to reach for their dreams, all while leaving an indelible mark on the world,” said award presenter Dr. Bryan Szumlas, BEd’90, MEd’94, EdD’00.

A widely regarded author, educator and leader, Smith has spent more than 30 years advocating for change in areas of anti-racism, EDI and human rights, and through her research, which includes seven books such as Nuances of Blackness in the Canadian Academy (2022), and teaching in the areas of social justice, African Studies, and international and comparative politics.

Smith’s many firsts include becoming the first Black senior leader at UCalgary, and the first Black person to sit on national bodies such as the Governing Council and executive of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) as governor and the executive of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, where she served as vice-president of equity issues. She was also the first Black woman to become a tenured political scientist at Athabasca University, University of Alberta and UCalgary, and the first to become a full professor of political science in Canada.

Smith serves on many national advisory committees such as the External EDI Advisory Board for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and is a member of the Inter-Institutional Advisory Committee (IISC) for the Scarborough Charter. She is a member of Statistics Canada’s Immigration and Ethnocultural Statistics Advisory Committee, and previously served on its Working Group on Black Communities in Canada.

As vice-provost and associate vice-president research, Smith is UCalgary’s primary EDI senior leader, actively working to guide the university to be a more accessible, equitable and inclusive place. Her work has focused on embedding EDI in the research ecosystem, including through Dimensions EDI, which received a “Construction Award” in 2023, the EDI in Research and Teaching Awards Plan, and expanding EDI data capacity through the EDI Data Hub. She has also led the institutional initiatives on Black flourishing by advancing UCalgary's commitment to the Scarborough Charter initiative and promoting African and diasporic studies.

Smith’s work in the creation of UCalgary’s Inclusive Excellence Cluster Hiring Initiative, launched in 2022, exemplifies her impact on advancing EDI across our campus through diversifying the professoriate ranks. The institutional and faculty-wide initiative is dedicated to equitably hiring professors from socially diverse backgrounds that, in turn, reflect not only the university’s diverse student body, but also the broader Calgary community.

Smith’s past honours, awards and fellowships include Compelling Calgarian 2021; the Susan S. Northcutt Award from the Women’s Caucus of the International Studies Association (2020); being a 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women honouree (2020); the Rosalind Smith Professional Award from the National Black Coalition of Canada-Edmonton (2020); and the International Studies Association – Canada’s Distinguished Scholar Award (2018-2019).

In her acceptance speech, Smith dedicated her award to the next generation of students, scholars, activists and inspired leaders.

Charles Odame-Ankrah

Charles Odame-Ankrah.

Calgary Black Chambers

Charles Odame-Ankrah

Odame-Ankrah, a renowned air quality research chemist, was awarded the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) award. He actively contributes to the global climate change battle and also creates an inclusive environment that fosters success for Black individuals.

The STEM award recognizes his work in breaking down systemic barriers to entry and advancement in fields where Black individuals are under-represented. Odame-Ankrah is a mentor to Black individuals and is helping to drive progress and innovation in fields critical to our society.

“This award celebrates their outstanding contributions and serves as a tribute to the power of Black excellence in shaping the future of STEM,” said award-presenters Dennis Banks and Kea Olarewaju.

Odame-Ankrah has had numerous platforms from which to support Black individuals as a community leader, innovator and educator. This includes being a member of the board of Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council; implementer of the Calgary African Community Collective; current president of the Ghanaian-Canadian Association of Calgary; a founding director and board chair of the African Coalition Club; and a board member of the Bridge to Oasis Foundation, which serves Black seniors across Alberta.

Past honours include receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal in January 2023 for his contributions to the Province of Alberta; the Community Builder of the Year 2023 Award from Ruth's House; and the Inclusive Leadership Award 2023 from Immigrant Champions of Canada. He was also named the Community Leader of the Year 2022 by Diversity Magazine.

As a mentor in the Black community, Odame-Ankrah’s mission is to increase the representation of minorities in the STEM community, hoping to inspire Black and immigrant youth to pursue any career, no matter their race.

Sinit Abraha

Sinit Abraha.

Calgary Black Chambers

Sinit Abraha

Abraha, who received the Youth Achievement Award, arrived in Canada as an Eritrean refugee only three years ago, and received her Bachelor of Arts from UCalgary not long before winning the Black Chambers’ award. Abraha is a current African Studies undergraduate student leader in the Faculty of Arts, a research assistant, and is the first Black woman president of the Political Science Students Association.

She also formed the Inclusion and Equity Student Council, a group of Black student leaders who drafted policy recommendations for UCalgary to become an “exemplary model in advancing anti-racism initiatives,” said presenter Eric Sogah, adding the award honours under-30s who “have become an inspiration to their peers and communities and role models for the next generation of Black leaders and changemakers.”

In the non-profit sector, Abraha has worked with organizations such as the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and the Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth. She has also worked as a facilitator and a co-ordinator for the Faculty of Social Work’s Anti-Black Racism Task Force, an initiative intended to examine policies that uphold anti-Black racism within UCalgary, as well as encourage the hiring of Black faculty members and create scholarships for Black students.

In 2020, Abraha was named one of the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada by Canada International Black Women Excellence and currently sits on a Youth Advisory Committee for Canada’s Shadow Minister for Finance.

By speaking out about the systemic racism faced by Black individuals and tirelessly engaging in a multitude of programs, organizations and initiatives, Abraha has given a voice to a marginalized community that is still struggling to be heard.

Ezeoha Santiago

Ezeoha Santiago.

Calgary Black Chambers

Ezeoha Santiago

A finance student in the Haskayne School of Business and captain of the Dinos Men’s basketball team, Santiago was celebrated with the Sports & Athletics Award, presented to individuals who exemplify leadership, dedication and passion.

In the sporting world, Santiago is a force to be reckoned with. In his first season at UCalgary, he played in and started 23 games, helping the Dinos to a fifth consecutive berth to nationals in 2019. With an average of 16 points per game, he was recognized as a Canada West All-Conference All-Star.

Santiago is a dedicated young professional and academic who has lived across Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S., which, he says, allowed him to develop strong multicultural competencies and become a change-embracing individual.

He motivates young Black men and women to strive for success and reach their goals through engagements with the Haskayne Commerce Undergraduate Society and UCalgary's Sixth Man Club.

Santiago uses his voice and platform to be a positive impact within the Black community, where his character as a dedicated and competitive individual has led him to be more than a high-performing athlete, but a mentor and inspiration for youth to achieve their entrepreneurial goals. Santiago’s strong mentality to foster change transfers from the court to all aspects of his life and of those around him.

Awards reflect entrepreneurial spirit

For the university, 2023’s award recipients exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit UCalgary members exhibit in all they do.

"We are incredibly proud of Dr. Malinda Smith, Dr. Charles Odame-Ankrah, Sinit Abraha and Ezeoha Santiago for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the University of Calgary and the broader community," says Dr. Penny Werthner, provost and vice-president (academic).

"Their pursuit of excellence in their respective spheres, and their dedication to community engagement and advancing a more equitable and inclusive campus and society is also a testament to the university's commitment to fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity. As we continue to support and elevate our community, we celebrate these remarkable individuals who are truly making a difference and inspiring future generations."

Smith and her fellow award honourees continue to build new avenues for increased intercultural competencies and equity within UCalgary and beyond. Smith says events such as these are crucial to raising awareness of this work.

The Calgary Black Chambers is an organization of professionals focused on advocating for social justice, leadership and uplifting the Black community. Each year, through the Calgary Black Achievement Awards, the chambers spotlights the contributions of Black professionals, entrepreneurs and youth to celebrate those who are helping Black culture to flourish.

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