Prominent anti-Black racism activist awarded honoury degree from Oshawa university

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Published June 7, 2024 at 1:16 pm

Desmond Cole
Desmond Cole

One of Canada’s “strongest voices” in raising awareness about anti-Black racism has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Ontario Tech University.

Desmond Cole was honoured this week as a “champion of inclusion and diversity” and for his work as an advocate, activist, and journalist.

A prominent journalist and author, Cole was the subject of a 2017 CBC documentary about systematic racism and hosted a talk show on a Toronto radio station from 2015-2020. His first book, The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power won the 2020 Toronto Book Award and was nominated for the 2021 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

His book documented interventions that policymakers and activists can study to help move the national conversation on anti-Black racism toward real action and he has given hundreds of keynote addresses, lectures and public talks on anti-Black racism, policing, journalism, politics and culture.

Cole, who was student council president and valedictorian at Father Leo Austin Catholic high school in Whitby, was a vocal justice advocate in the highly publicized 2016 Dafonte Miller case and the subsequent criminal trial of the Durham Police officers involved in his arrest. He was subsequently highly sought out by local and national media for perspective on a real-time example of racism in Canada during a period of heightened global awareness about the mistreatment of Black men by police.

Cole was part of a coalition that fought successfully for the removal of police in the Toronto District School Board, when police presence in schools was a controversial policy.

In the spring of 2006, Cole competed in Toronto’s City Idol competition and was the winner for Toronto-East York, paving the way for a run at the City Council seat in Trinity-Spadina in the 2006 election, where the 24-year-old finished third.

Born in Red Deer, Alberta, he grew up in Oshawa and taught French in Durham for two years before moving to Toronto to work with at-risk youth.

Other notable Canadians awarded honorary degrees from Ontario Tech this week included Dr. Jacueline Gahagan for her contributions to health equity research; Roberta Jamieson for her advocacy for the rights and autonomy of Indigenous people; and Julie Thorburn for her work in improving access to justice and community services for underserviced groups.

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