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Lincoln Alexander Awards: Recognizing Ontario youth making a difference

On Friday, Dec. 14, I will be at the lieutenant governor’s suite representing my grandfather, Ontario’s first black lieutenant governor, at the Lincoln Alexander Awards ceremony.

It is a great honour for me to join the recipients and speak to them and other youth on behalf of my grandfather, for whom the awards are named, but mainly I feel that it is a responsibility for me to be there to show my gratitude to the award recipients. For the first time since the award was created 19 years ago, my grandfather won’t be at the presentation ceremony. He passed away eight weeks ago.

The sadness of his passing is with us every moment of every day. But the upcoming ceremony will be a great opportunity to honour him.

I know that he understood how important it is to recognize and value the efforts made by youth dedicated to challenging inequality. So, when his tenure as lieutenant governor came to an end, this award became his legacy, a commitment to helping youth overcome social barriers.

Every year he celebrated the leadership of three young people to end racial discrimination and promote social change. And he was always humbled by the creativity and passion of the award recipients.

The 2012 awards recipients are no exception: Ashmandeep, Christie and Sasha. They are three remarkable young women who truly deserve to be in the spotlight.

Ashmandeep Khroad is a passionate advocate for equality among people from different backgrounds. It is that passion that inspired her to become the president of the Multicultural Club, and to create Culture-Fest, an event to celebrate the other nine cultural ethnicities at Sandalwood Heights Secondary School.

Amazingly, Ashmandeep — who is of Indian descent — became the first non-African student to join the African Heritage Club at her high school. By doing so, she motivated her peers to join the club, and learn about the contributions of people of African descent.

Sasha Maracle, another award recipient, has become a political voice for First Nations youth. She remembers being called “Pocahontas” when she was younger, but turned the experience around and became an advocate for her culture. Sasha is a youth representative of the Ontario First Nations Young Peoples Council, and was elected co-chair of the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council. In those roles, she encourages other youth to find their own voice and aspirations.

When Christie Park reached high school, she was not prepared for the lack of community, empathy and understanding she encountered among her fellow students. So she decided to do something about it, taking a leading role in the Harmony Movement, a set of programs dedicated to diversity education. She started an art night to raise awareness of violence and bullying in schools across Toronto, and organizes several events to motivate her peers to stand up against any kind of discrimination.

Ashmandeep, Sasha and Christie are leaders who are already making a difference and bringing change to our communities. And it is our responsibility to recognize their hard work and show appreciation for what they are doing.

It will be an honour for me to meet them next Friday and to express my gratitude personally and on behalf of my grandfather Lincoln. – Opinion