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December 2, 2019 | Alumni

U of T alumnae spearhead inaugural Toronto Black Policy Conference

By Jovana Jankovic

Anna-Kay Russell and Eunice Kays smile together in a library.

The inaugural Toronto Black Policy Conference was organized by Anna-Kay Russell (MPP 2018) and Eunice Kays (MPP 2019) (pictured), as well as Sharnelle Morgan (MPP 2019) (photo by Lani Krantz)

Three graduates from the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy are behind a daylong event aimed at fostering conversations about local policy initiatives that affect Toronto’s diverse Black communities.

The inaugural Toronto Black Policy Conference took place on November 30 at the Munk School, and was organized by Eunice Kays (MPP 2019), Sharnelle Morgan (MPP 2019) and Anna-Kay Russell (MPP 2018) – all alumnae of the master of public policy program.

“The conference was inspired by a collaboration that we led at the Munk School with the Harvard Kennedy School, whose annual Black Policy Conference is the longest-running conference at the school,” says Russell. “We really wanted to have a similar kind of conversation here in Toronto.”

With broad goals of networking and knowledge-sharing at a local level, the conference covered a wide range of topics, including mental health, arts and culture, innovation, activism, labour and economic issues. It was hosted by the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit and the Munk School’s Urban Policy Lab.

“Parliament Hill or at the community level? Creating change can come from both sides of that spectrum”

“While the Munk School is a great school, we realized there wasn't enough representation for people that identify as Black,” says Kays. “This conference is a great way to show that policy work is a real possibility and a career path. You can really make your voice heard and be involved in decision-making.”

Morgan points to the conference’s closing keynote session, “Political Activism: At the Table or on the Streets?” as a particularly crucial event. The session featured Laura Mae Lindo (BA 1998 UTSC), a member of provincial parliament, and Marcell Wilson, the co-founder of the One By One Movement advocacy group.

“Within the Black community, we’re often challenged with deciding where to best have certain conversations,” Morgan says. “Is it on Parliament Hill? Or is it at the community level, on the ground? I think the keynote will help participants understand that creating change can come from both sides of that spectrum.”

“be civically involved and engaged – especially at the youth level”

The conference organizers are also behind the Toronto Black Policy Network, a new organization that will house initiatives similar to the conference by focusing on policy-making through a Black lens.

“We hope to use the conference’s networking session to recruit more people to the network,” says Russell.

Asked what they most looked forward to about the event, Kays says it’s “motivation to be civically involved and engaged – especially at the youth level.”

For Russell, it’s “inspiration about innovation. How can we, as Black individuals, continue to be innovative in this city?”

“We want this to be an ongoing conversation and an ongoing initiative”

While the three organizers are united in their passion for public policy, their academic paths have diverse origins.

Russell’s undergraduate studies were in environmental and health studies with a minor in psychology. Kays studied liberal arts at Seneca College with the intention to eventually enter law. Morgan focused on international development within her studies in public affairs and policy management.

Having organized the inaugural Toronto Black Policy Conference, all three women are hopeful that it will be the first of many to come.

“We want this to be an ongoing conversation and an ongoing initiative,” says Russell.

COVID-19 Update:

In light of the current situation, in-person events in May (including Alumni Reunion events) have been postponed or cancelled. Looking for online events and resources for alumni while staying home? Visit the online #StayHome hub. Have questions? Contact us.