Meet our speakers

Keynote speaker

Headshot of Dr. Deborah Thompson

Dr. Debra Thompson

Associate Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Societies at McGill University

Dr. Debra Thompson is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Societies at McGill University. She is a leading scholar of the comparative politics of race and a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Her research, teaching, and public scholarship seek to analyze the complex historic and contemporary relationships among race, the state, and inequality in Canada and other democratic societies.

Dr. Thompson’s award-winning first book, The Schematic State: Race, Transnationalism, and the Politics of the Census (Cambridge University Press, 2016) is a study of the political development of racial classifications on the national censuses of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Her best-selling second book, The Long Road Home: On Blackness and Belonging (Simon & Schuster, 2022) was one of Indigo’s top 100 books, CBC’s best non-fiction of 2022, the Hill Times top 100 books of 2022, won the Canadian Political Science Association’s Donald Smiley Prize for the best book on Canadian politics, and was a finalist for the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s Mavis Gallant Prize for Nonfiction and the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. 

Session speakers

Naomie Seh Abomo

Naomie Seh Abomo

Naomie Seh Abomo is a 4th-year civil engineering student specializing in structural engineering at the University of Waterloo. She is an active community organizer, as a founding member of the National Society of Black Engineers UWaterloo chapter, since 2019 she has helped create spaces for Black engineering students to connect and engage in professional and academic development opportunities. For the past 3 years, she has been focusing her time in developing community relations for the chapter by advocating for attendance at national conferences, as well as working with the engineering faculty outreach committee in their STEMpowered Black youth programs.

Fitsum Areguy

Fitsum Areguy

Fitsum Areguy is a writer, organizer, and researcher based in Kitchener, ON. His writing can be found in Briarpatch Magazine, Canadian Dimension, New Sociology, Red Noise Collective, and Korea Exposé, among others. He is the co-founder and project director for Textile, a community arts collective that provides mentorship, programming, and platforms for writers and artists on the margins in Waterloo Region. Fitsum volunteers on the board of directors for Multicultural Theatre Space and ACCKWA, and in his free time he enjoys playing pick-up ball with strangers and listening to dance music. 

Headshot of Rayanne Banaga

Rayanne Banaga

Rayanne Banaga is a community counsellor and educator with a background working extensively with black and racialized communities in anti-oppressive education, youth empowerment, community mental health, and community based research. She believes in a collaborative approach to learning, healing, and caring for one another and uses transformative and restorative frameworks to reflect this in her work.  

Rayanne considers herself to be rooted in a commitment of accountability to the needs of her community and is deeply interested in imagining and building a world that centers on the self determination and ultimate liberation of marginalized communities.  

Trevor Charles

Trevor Charles

Trevor C. Charles, Ph.D., is co-founder of the companies Metagenom Bio Life Science, Healthy Hydroponics InnoTech, and Earth Microbial, founder and executive director of the LiftOff Black Entrepreneurship Program, director of Waterloo Centre for Microbial Research, and professor of Biology at the University of Waterloo. He was trained as a microbiologist and bacterial geneticist, with B.Sc. Microbiology from University of British Columbia, Ph.D. Molecular Biology from McMaster University, and Postdoc from University of Washington. He has held faculty positions at both McGill University and the University of Waterloo. His work is situated within the context of Circular Bioeconomy. with current activity in the following areas: Bacterial production of novel bioplastics; Beneficial endophytic bacteria in controlled environment agriculture; Bacterial degradation of the herbicide glyphosate; Wastewater pathogen surveillance. 

Juliet Daniel

Juliet Daniel

Professor Juliet Daniel is a Cancer Biologist and the Associate Dean of Research and External Relations in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University. She received her BSc from Queen’s University, her PhD from UBC, and completed Postdoctoral studies at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

Prof. Daniel’s research is focused on elucidating the role of the transcription factor Kaiso in cancer and vertebrate development. Her team is also currently elucidating the molecular/genetic causes of the disparities in incidence and poor outcomes of triple negative breast cancer in Black women. In recognition of her research and community service, Prof. Daniel has received several awards including the inaugural Canadian Cancer Society Inclusive Excellence Award, an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill, a UWI Vice Chancellor’s Award, and a WXN Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award among many others.

Gilene Graham

Gilene Graham

Gilene Graham is 4th year Political Science and Communication Studies Student at Wilfrid Laurier University where she serves as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Black Scholars of Laurier Project, the President of the Laurier Black Student Association, and Vice-President of Marketing for the Laurier Communications Student Association. 

In her research, Gilene focuses on the presence of Black individuals in academia at Laurier from 1911-2024. As President of the Black Student Association, she acts as the main representative for Black Students on Laurier’s Waterloo Campus and collaborates with staff from the Laurier EDI Department and Dean of Students’ Office to ensure the the enhancement of the learning experience for Black Students. She also sat on the Advisory Committee for this year’s Scarborough Charter Forum as a Community Engagement Chair, and looks forward to continuing inclusion-based work for equity-deserving communities as she enters her post-grad career path in the Sports/Entertainment industry.

Throughout her degree, she has actively engaged in strong leadership, strategic planning, and community building experiences through her academic, professional, and extracurricular involvement both on and off Laurier campus. Her diverse experiences showcase her commitment to social equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Eden Hennessey

Eden Hennessey

Eden Hennessey (she/her) is a Social Psychologist who researches and mobilizes knowledge related to diversity promotion and discrimination reduction. She is the inaugural Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Data Specialist at Wilfrid Laurier University and Research and Programs Director of the Laurier Centre for Women in Science (WinS). Dr. Hennessey advocates for equity and inclusion in academia and combines arts with data to impact world-wide audiences through photo-research exhibits. 

Celine Isimbi

Celine Isimbi

Celine, a final-year undergraduate in the Faculty of Environment, is pursuing a joint honours degree in Environment, Resources, and Sustainability, coupled with Geography and Environmental Management and a minor in Political Sciences. She has taken on student leadership roles, serving as the coordinator for UWRAISE, a student-run service, and contributing to the organizing team for the Xchanges 2021 conference - Borders of Being - fostering solidarity within the university and the broader community. Celine actively participates in consultations and advisory groups, ensuring student voices remain influential in decision-making.

Beyond her academic commitments, she engages with the global youth climate justice movement and has worked with Black-led youth organizations. She was awarded the Top 25 Environmentalists under 25 awards in 2023 by Starfish Canada in recognition of her environmental leadership. Celine is the co-lead organizer with the Climate Justice Ecosystem at UW. Using the climate justice framework, this independent student group seeks to build student power for a sustainable, resilient and just UW. 

Jermal Jones

Jermal Jones

Jermal Alleyne Jones is the Associate Director, EDIA Library at the University of Waterloo and co-founder of Next Gen Men (NGM), a team of staff and volunteers empowering boys (and men) to change the way they see, think, and act about masculinity. He is also second-year PhD student in the Recreation and Leisure Aging, Health, and Wellbeing program. He studies the intersections between race (Black), ethnicity, gender (men), and ag(e)ing from an interdisciplinary lens.    

Mel Katsivo

Melanie Katsivo

Dr. Melanie N. Katsivo, Ph.D., Cert.APM, is a dynamic professional with a wealth of experience in project management, research, and academia. Holding a Ph.D. in Educational Communication and Technology – focusing on Health Promotion from Kenyatta University, Dr. Katsivo's academic journey has been marked by a passion for understanding and addressing complex issues in healthcare and public health.

Throughout her career, Dr. Katsivo has demonstrated exceptional leadership and expertise in project management, particularly in the realm of public health initiatives. Her innovative approaches and strategic insights have played a pivotal role in the successful execution of various projects aimed at improving community health outcomes. 

In addition to her project management prowess, Dr. Katsivo is a seasoned researcher, with a strong publication record in reputable academic journals. Her research interests span a wide range of topics, including health equity, health promotion, and chronic disease prevention. 

Naila Keleta-Mae

Naila Keleta-Mae

Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae is a Dorothy Killam Fellow, Canada Research Chair, Royal Society of Canada College Member, Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and multi-disciplinary artist. She is the Principal Investigator of Black And Free, a research-creation project that brings together artists, academics, students and the general public through multi-year research partnerships with private and public sector organizations.

Keleta-Mae has authored the books Beyoncé and Beyond: 2013-2016 (Routledge UK) and Performing Female Blackness (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) and she is Co-Editor of the peer-reviewed journal Theatre Research In Canada/Recherches théâtrales au Canada. Her music albums are Fire Woman, Bloom and Free Dome: South Africa; her plays are What We Deserve, No Knowledge College and stuck and she has performed in Canada, France, Jamaica and South Africa. Keleta-Mae has also commentated for media outlets including the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, Business News Network, CTV, The Canadian Press, The National Post, The Fader, Today’s Parent and the British Broadcast Corporation.  

Jada Koushik

Jada Koushik

Dr. Jada Renee Koushik, PhD, graduated from the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research focused on the intricate relationship between dimensions of sense of place and sustainability education policy and practice. Jada's scholarly pursuits center on understanding the dynamics influencing intersectionality and sustainability in K-12 education, making a significant contribution to this academic field. 

Following her doctoral studies, Jada pursued a postdoctoral fellowship in anti-racism and anti-oppression at Wilfrid Laurier University's Faculty of Social Work. Currently, she serves as the Supervisor of Quality Improvement and Evaluation at Family and Children's Services of the Waterloo Region. In this role, Jada applies her expertise in intersectionality and anti-racist practice to enhance programs and services, ensuring they meet the highest standards of equity and effectiveness for children and families throughout the region.

Dr. Laura Mae Lindo

Laura Mae Lindo

Dr. Laura Mae Lindo (she/her/elle) is a respected activist and educator who holds both a Masters and PhD in Education. Dr. Lindo is a knowledgeable advocate for the rights of womxn and girls, a respected ally to vulnerable communities, and, most importantly, a courageous public speaker, ready, willing, and able to speak to issues often left unaddressed. Her research includes an exploration of the use of humour to initiate discussions of race and racism in pre-service classrooms. A former Member of Provincial Parliament for Kitchener Centre and Ontario’s Official Opposition Critic for Anti-Racism and Equity as well as Colleges and Universities, Dr. Lindo was the inaugural Chair of Ontario’s first Black Caucus. She is currently an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario) and Founder and Director of the e(RACE)r Institute where she continues to put anti-racist theory into practice.  

James Oloo

James Oloo

James Alan Oloo is an assistant professor in educational administration, policy and leadership at the University of Windsor, Ontario. His research explores ways of improving learning experiences for all students. Dr. Oloo's research also seeks to better understand factors and conditions that enhance success among underrepresented students, including Black and Indigenous students, and those from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. He is a founding board member of The CUBE – an Indigenous and Black Student Talent Incubator at the University of Windsor. 

Stephanie Otou

Stephanie Otou

Stephanie Otou is a technology lawyer. In her current role as Senior Counsel, Digital and Innovation at RBC, she advises on the legal aspects of digital transformation, disruptive innovation, AI and other emerging technologies. She also supports RBCX Ventures, the entrepreneurial arm of RBC, to scale startups and high-growth companies and support non-traditional growth opportunities beyond banking. Prior to joining RBC, Stephanie led Loblaw’s digital and technology legal team. Stephanie has been supporting innovative ventures for over 13 years in large corporations, small to midsized private companies and venture backed start-ups in California, New York, Montreal and Toronto. 

Shama Saleh

Shama Saleh

Shama Saleh holds a B.Sc. in Health Studies with a minor in Political Science from the University of Waterloo. Her academic foundation has nurtured a strong passion for community development, community-building, and advocacy. Her diverse experiences include involvement in health research projects focused on marginalized women, serving on a local newspaper board to shed light on diverse narratives, and acting as a Community Engagement Coordinator at the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council. She particularly takes pride in her work co-founding Project UP, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing systemic barriers faced by Black Muslim girls and women in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region. Shama's professional journey has afforded her opportunities to collaborate with marginalized groups, both locally and internationally. These experiences have significantly shaped her worldview and informed her understanding of her role within it. As she continues to work with and alongside her community in all her pursuits, Shama is guided by the profound insight of Kwame Ture: "An organization claiming to speak for the needs of a community must express itself in the tone of that community.” 

Marcia Smellie

Marcia Smellie

Since arriving in Waterloo Region in 1982 to start her teaching career with the WRDB, she has volunteered and served on the Board of numerous community organizations. Most notably she has been a member of the Congress of Black Women - Waterloo Chapter and ADK-Alpha Delta Kappa Sorority, Upsilon Chapter for more than 30 years.

Marcia is currently the President of the Congress Chapter and Secretary of the Ontario Region of the Congress. Even in retirement she continues to volunteer to improve the visibility and respect for the Black community. Current she is the Program Administrator for Run4OfficeWR and works to help organize Black History Month events. In 2023 Marcia was named one of Waterloo Regions 10 Change Makers by CBC KW and recognized by the WRCF with the Ken Murray Community Catalyst Award.

Jessica Thompson

Jessica Thompson

Jessica Thompson is an Associate Professor of Hybrid Media at the University of Waterloo and Director of the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business. Her artistic research investigates the ways that sound reveals spatial and social conditions within cities, and how the creative use of urban data can generate new modes of citizen engagement.  

Her interactive artworks have shown in exhibitions and festivals such as the International Symposium of Electronic Art (San Jose, Dubai, Vancouver), the Conflux Festival (New York), Thinking Metropolis (Copenhagen), Beyond/In Western New York (Buffalo). She has received grants from the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Government of Ontario.  

She is a founding member of the University of Waterloo's Black Faculty Collective and a member of the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Anti-racism Office's Sankofa Think Tank. 

Paul Ugor

Paul Ugor

Dr Paul Ugor is a Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of Modern African Literatures and Cultures, Anglophone Postcolonial World Literatures, Cultural Studies, Global Black Studies, and New Media Cultures in the Global South.

He is the author of Nollywood: Popular Culture and Narratives of Youth Struggles in Nigeria (2016) and co-editor of several collections including, Youth and Popular Culture in Africa: Media, Music, and Politics (2021); African Youth Cultures in the Age of Globalization: Challenges, Agency, and Resistance (2017); Special Issue of Critical African Studies on ‘African Youth, Popular Culture, and the Ethnographic Sense’ (2023); Postcolonial Text, Vol. 8, No. 3 & 4, 2013; and a special issue of Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies 31:4 (2009). 

Yasmine Wallace

Yasmin Wallace

Yasmin Wallace (she/her) recently completed her undergraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and Legal Studies at the University of Waterloo, wherein her research interests included systemic oppression within the criminal justice system and education system. As a student, Yasmin was involved with the student-run service RAISE (Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidarity, and Equity) as an Education Director. This, paired with her role as an Anti-Racism Project coordinator at the University of Waterloo’s EDI-R Office, allows her to engage in anti-racism work in a space that is very important to her as a student at the University of Waterloo. She recognizes the inherent importance of developing support systems for current and future students, fostering an environment where every individual feels valued, heard, and empowered to thrive. In her free time, Yasmin enjoys reading books and crocheting.

Teneile Warren

Teneile Warren

Teneile Warren is the Equity and Inclusion Officer for the Waterloo Region District School Board, Community Advocate, Intersectional Equity Educator, Playwright, and Published Author. They are a 2023 recipient of the Black Excellence in Leadership Award for Waterloo Region. A dedicated community builder, Teneile uses their voice and platform to tackle systemic racism and action liberatory principles for sustainable Black futures. They are the Editor-at-Large for Textile Magazine and part-time faculty member at the University of Waterloo. A Jamaican immigrant to Canada, Teneile is a partner, parent, and furmama. 

Headshot of Ciann Wilson

Ciann Wilson

Ciann Wilson has over a decade experience working within racialized and Indigenous communities across Canada, first as a youth programmer and advocate in Toronto, and now as a community health researcher doing work across the country. Given glaring health disparities, her body of work as an award-winning scholar aims to utilize research, education, and evaluation as avenues for sharing the realities of Black, Indigenous and racialized communities for the improvement of the health and wellbeing of our communities. 

Vershawn Young

Vershawn Young

Dr. Vershawn Young’s academic focus centers on three main areas within Black Studies: masculinity studies, language studies, and performance studies. A versatile individual, he operates as a multi-disciplinary artist, scholar, and educator, seamlessly integrating these diverse fields into his published works and instructional endeavors spanning communication, composition, rhetoric, education, American literature, and theatre.

Having held positions as a professor at the University of Iowa and the University of Kentucky, he brings a wealth of experience beyond academia. His roles include serving as a high school drama/English/speech teacher, an elementary school principal, a supervisor of itinerant theater teachers in Los Angeles, and a school board administrator. Furthermore, he holds a JD law degree and has served as a child protection mediator for the Ontario Ministry and a family mediator in both Canada and the USA.

Dedicated to fostering diversity and cultural competency, he frequently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations, delivering training on interpersonal and intercultural communication. Collaborating closely with colleagues, such as Frankie Condon from the UW English Department, he conducts workshops on antiracist communication and code meshing.