Celebrating the remarkable experiences of our Black alumni
Meet 15 Black alumni impacting the world today, and the story behind their journeys
Meet 15 Black alumni impacting the world today, and the story behind their journeysBy Yusra Kureshi Co-op student, Office of Advancement
Throughout the year, we’re proud to share stories of numerous Black entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, scientists and community builders in the University of Waterloo’s alumni network.
These alumni are shaping the histories of tomorrow, by using artistry for personal expression, making risky career changes, influencing innovation in the entrepreneurial world, combatting societal issues, and forging communities of love and support.
Below, you’ll find a compilation of 15 unique stories that showcase the Black alumni experience at Waterloo. Keep reading to discover the diverse accomplishments and inspirations of our Black alumni.
During the start of the pandemic, Nadia Hohn (BA '01) took a leave of absence from her teaching job to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She was interested in creating stories that lay close to her heart, of Black women and girls living authentically and being true to themselves.
Nadia discusses her experience in our podcast series, Uncharted: Warriors in the World, where she goes into the motivations behind becoming an author, her journey with cancer and believing in her own abilities.
In the 1960s, photographer and aerospace engineer Roy Francis settled in the Waterloo region. After his passing in 2019, Roy left behind a 100-year collection of photos that captured the everyday Black experience he witnessed in Jamaica, England and Canada.
Decades later, Roy’s grandson Aaron Francis (MA '14), uncovered the photos. As an artist and curator, he decided to display these snippets of time to commemorate the history of his family and portray a representation of the Black experience that actively combatted common stereotypes.
Since then, Vintage Black Canada has been presented by the Black Artists’ Networks In Dialogue (BAND) gallery in Toronto, as well as at the University of Waterloo.
Aaron continues to reveal pieces of Roy’s collection, which you can view on the official Vintage Black Canada Instagram. You can also hear from Aaron himself through his takeover on the UWaterloo Alumni Instagram.
Chris Wilson (BSc '21) started his journey at the UWaterloo as a biochemistry student.
Towards the end of his degree, he decided to pursue being a touring DJ, and then progressed into a cultural programmer.
He eventually changed course from his biochemistry degree and now studies Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University, leading a career as a cultural designer for the creative studio and company Somewherelse.
In our podcast series, Chris discusses the motivations behind his career, the work behind changing career paths, and his passion for human-centred design. He highlights the importance of incorporating culture and community into his creative work, and what that means for him.
Growing up as a Black woman, Ajoa has always known of the hurdles that lay in her path. After 10 years working as a chemical engineer, she decided to build something for herself: a business that she loved. Ajoa shares ths journey in a podcast episode, where she describes Four All as an extension of her undergraduate background. The design of raw products into ice cream cultivates a joyous experience for her customers.
Nadayar Enegesi (BSc '13) is the co-founder of African IT company Andela, which first started in Lagos, Nigeria and now spans worldwide.
CNN dubbed Andela as one of the most selective programs in the world, and Nadayar states that the goal of Andela is to provide opportunities to talented people in tech who are otherwise underrepresented.
Nadayar is now the co-founder and CEO of Eden Life Inc, a company based in Lagos that uses tech to make household chores easier, while ensuring the optimal environment for people who provide and receive their services.
Marc Lafleur (BSc '14) is the co-founder and CEO of truLOCAL, a business that got its start with a pitch on the CBC show Dragons Den. Two years ago, he sat down to discuss his journey and challenges as a Black entrepreneur in an episode for our podcast series.
That same year, truLOCAL launched their Equal Opportunity Business Grant, awarding $5000 to four Black-owned/founded businesses and emphasizing the importance of supporting local Black businesses.
In 2021, Marc was the recipient of the Faculty of Health Young Alumni Award, and truLOCAL continues to prosper, connecting Canadians to local meat farmers with their e-commerce shop.
Cassie’s team helps organizations hold themselves accountable and take charge in creating environments that allow excluded communities to succeed.
In a recent article, Cassie acknowledges that systematic oppression is interwoven in complexities, and as a Black woman, she hopes to use her work as a stepping stone for others to participate in.
Inspired by his time as a student at Waterloo, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji (BA '12) is the co-founder of Future Africa, which connects investors to African innovators leading the market in global business. He builds opportunities for Africans to solve African problems and plans to use his growing network to aid unemployment rates of youth across Africa.
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (PhD '11) completed her PhD at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and has since become a monumental figure in the STEM field. As a physicist and cosmologist, Chanda is an assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy and faculty member in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire.
As an author, her book The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, introduces science as a social phenomenon. As an activist, she is the co-founder of Particles for Justice, a group formed for the purpose of fighting discrimination.
In our spring 2021 magazine, Chanda discusses the hurdles she has faced due to her identity, and expresses the unreasonable levels of resilience that is required from people of marginalized identities. She emphasizes that science and society cannot be separated: "If it matters for society, it matters for science too."
If it matters for society, it matters for science too.
At 14, Ebele Mogo (BSc '13) left Nigeria to study biomedical sciences at Waterloo. She excelled during her undergraduate degree as an international student and planned to attend medical school after graduation, but her plans changed when her application was not accepted.
Ebele did not let this deter her from pursuing what she wanted to do, and eventually she found her place in global health.
She co-founded the Engage Africa Foundation, a non-profit combating non-communicable, long-lasting diseases in Africa in a myriad of ways, recently having translated COVID-19 health information in 19 different African languages.
Ebele now works as a public health researcher at the University of Cambridge, and is president of her own firm, ERIM Consulting. She advises students to let their values pave the way for their careers, to become familiar with failure and to expect the unexpected.
Chekema Prince (BA '99) is not only an engineer, but also a mentor, coach and entrepreneur. In 2016, she had won the prestigious Martin Walmsley Award for Entrepreneurship with a $25,000 prize for her medical startup Pression.
In recent years, she's continued her work in healthcare technology, through research and medical design. Today, she works at Medtronic, using her engineering background for patient care.
In her fall 2021 magazine feature, Chekema opens up about her experience as a Black woman in the technology space, and why she hopes to guide students who are experiencing a similar journey to her own through Concept, an experiential entrepreneurship program with UWaterloo. Her path wasn’t easy, but she advises students to keep pushing, reassuring them that there will always be support along the way.
When Chérisse Mike (BA '17) moved to Waterloo as an international student from Trinidad, she quickly noticed the stereotypes that surrounded her and many other students on campus. She found that Black people were often grouped together as a monolith, erasing the unique parts of their personal identities.
With funding from the 2019 Internationalization Fund, Chérisse created two videos, titled ‘I’m Caribbean’ and ‘I’m African’, bringing together several student groups on campus, the Association of Caribbean Students (ACS), the Black Association for Student Expression (BASE) and the African Students Association (ASA).
The final product served as a starting conversation to addressing stereotypes and misconceptions, spreading far and wide to amplify the voices of Waterloo students.
In 2017, Michael Robson (BA '13) pledged $10,000 to build the Collective Movement Award. His motivations stemmed from his own time at Waterloo, which proved to show many challenges after a hip surgery took him off of the football field. Michael found his support system in the African, Caribbean and Black student groups on campus, and in the students who built a community within these groups.
The Collective Movement Award is for students who are continuing to build a culture of helping others at Waterloo, and for Michael, that community is vital. Michael found that the act of giving back can foster community to: "At first, I thought giving back to UW was going to be a one-way street, I never realized I’d be building relationships and a network for life.”
I never realized I'd be building relationships and a network for life.
In the mid-1990’s, Lannois Carroll-Woolery (BASc ‘97) joined the Association of Caribbean Students (ACS) to connect with his community away from home. Like fate, he met his future wife, Anandi Carroll-Woolery (BMath '02), another international student like him.
Eventually, the two started their life together on a campus residence for married international students, and once again, they found a community away from home. Through these welcoming spaces at Waterloo, Lannois and Anandi were able to navigate their youth with support and love.
In a recent issue of Waterloo Magazine, Lannois and Anandi revealed that the reason they became early supporters of the Collective Movement Award was to express gratitude for their lived experiences, and hopefully provide the same “positive social fabric” to Waterloo students today.
Famously known as successful professional athletes in their hometown, Taly Williams (BASc '94) grew up in Haliburton, Ontario with his sister, Lesley Tashlin.
However, only recently, after a group of elementary students sparked a campaign for their inclusion on a local mural, did the town of Haliburton pay homage to their achievements.
Taly played for the Waterloo Warriors, studied civil engineering at Waterloo and went on to eventually play for the Canadian Football League. Lesley competed at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 as a sprinter and is the only Olympian to come from Haliburton Country. As the first Black athletes on the mural, they both serve as a symbol of inspiration for children in Haliburton.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within the Office of Indigenous Relations.