Black leaders in the York community

(Courtesy of Patrick Fore, Unsplash)

Every community needs a leader. Whether they are self appointed, elected, or composed of a group coming together to advise and guide one another, having a leader around makes life easier, can be quite fulfilling, and helps to keep things organized. 

All around us, there are people who help to direct us in our daily lives— this can be through teaching us, assisting us in group projects, leading club meetings, or just showing us how to get to Scott Library. There are several Black leaders here at York who are helping to keep their respective communities afloat.

Some of the most important and well-recognized leaders in life are teachers, and this, of course, includes the professors and teaching assistants at York. When speaking to Dr. Damilola Adebayo, an assistant professor in the department of history, he was delighted to share his experience so far at York. 

As a newcomer to Canada, arriving in the country roughly six months ago, Dr. Adebayo has settled nicely into the York community, where he is currently teaching African history. 

“I started teaching at York in fall 2021 and was immediately struck by the diversity of my small virtual classroom. For an African who received his graduate training at predominantly white institutions, York’s diversity and commitment to social justice is non-pareil. As a professor of African history, I would not want to be anywhere else in Canada.”

Dr. Adebayo also has a great understanding of what it means to be a leader. He greatly appreciates the time he spends with his students and faculty members, stating that, “I have had a cordial working relationship with my fellow professors at the department of history. I have also had the privilege of interacting with intellectually-curious students from different backgrounds, including those not enrolled in my courses. 

“These would not have been possible without the efforts of my colleagues who have fought and continue to fight to make York a more welcoming space for Black students, staff, and faculty. I salute their courage,” Dr. Adebayo continues.

While teachers and faculty members are undoubtedly some of the most important presences of leadership at York, student leadership is equally as important. Speaking with board member of the York Federation of Students (YFS), Adaeze Mbalaja, a third-year biomedical science student, she describes why she chose to run for the position of VP Campaigns and Advocacy, which she currently serves. 

“Throughout my involvement (in various aspects of campus life), the one thing that consistently stood out to me was diversity and support found within the York community. This led me to realize that students deserve advocacy that represents their needs and struggles.” Mbalaja’s duties include advocating for the students, running campaigns that address both student needs and systemic issues, and ensuring that the voices of undergraduate students are being heard.

For Mbalaja, the work she does is fulfilling, even in the face of difficulty. She enjoys meeting and connecting with students from different backgrounds all over campus, while also addressing the issues that the student body faces. 

“I’ve always felt that leadership is a verb. The privilege and ability to lead and represent students is something that I strive to earn every day.”

It is true that leadership is not an easy task. It is something that needs to be worked on continuously and improved in order to become truly great. For some, leadership doesn’t come as easily as it does for others, but this won’t stop them from stepping up to the plate in order to do something they love. 

Ayokunmi Oladesu, a first-year film production major, states she doesn’t really feel like a leader in her position as a choreographer for the J. Clark Richardson Dance Team. “I feel like dance is way too collaborative in general to have definitive leadership. Obviously, I teach the choreography and make formations and whatnot, but I also like to give the kids some creative freedom in some aspects.”

Choreographing has proven to be extremely fulfilling for Oladesu, as she describes watching her dances come to life as “the best feeling ever. I just sit there like ‘wow, I made that! They’re performing something I created.’ There’s a really big difference between being in dance or choreographing a dance you’re in and just sitting back and letting others take it away. I really enjoy it.” 

There is often a sense of pressure for us to strive to the top of society and lead others, especially in the Black community, where there is an added need to break stereotypes or go above and beyond in our daily tasks in order to be considered equally to others. Being a follower, rather than a leader, is often unfortunately looked down upon. In Oladesu’s case though, being defined as a choreographer, rather than a leader, is something she does because she loves it. “I’m into choreography simply because of the creative aspect, less so the chance to be a leader.”

It is especially important to see Black people in the community here at York being able to pursue their goals regardless of whether they truly feel like leaders or not. Leadership takes a lot of time, dedication and skill to step up to plate and get things done. It can be nerve wracking at times, but at the end of the day, someone has to do it. Thankfully, we have several brave leaders around the York community who are doing the impossible everyday.

About the Author

By Jaidah-Leigh Wyatt


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