Dr. Tapo Chimbganda, Changemaker

Niagara Falls, Canada

“My first encounter with racism was two years after I immigrated to Canada from Zimbabwe. I was in my first student placement as a child and youth worker at an elementary school. The school was far from where I lived. I had to get up every morning at 4:30 and take two buses to get to work on time. Despite my efforts, I continued to arrive for my placement either too late or too early. But this wasn’t the hardest part of the placement. It was being excluded by my colleagues. When I spoke to them during meetings, they didn’t respond. Instead, they exchanged looks, and when they spoke to me, it was deliberately slow or unnecessarily loud. They made it clear that I was not wanted in their group.

Throughout my journey, I would draw on that first encounter. When I was completing my master’s degree and was consistently awarded the lowest marks on my assignments, I insisted on anonymous submission. Going forward, I maintained the highest grades. A professor told me that my master’s thesis was the best in the cohort but not to tell anyone because other professors would not agree. When I was the sole Black student admitted into my doctoral program, my peers would text me to demand to read my paper because I got an A+. When I became a faculty member, I was asked repeatedly why I was in a faculty space. By the time I graduated with my doctorate in 2017, I was exhausted.

I can recount many more instances and situations where navigating a harsh and abrasive system left me bruised. I had to find the strength within myself so I could get to where I needed to be. In 2019, I founded Future Black Female, a not-for-profit organization that supports and empowers Black female youth on their journey. Our first project was a global essay contest: The Future is Black Female. Writers from 16 countries around the globe shared their lived experiences as Black females in their cultures and communities reinforcing the universal truth that Black female youth all over the world struggle with poverty, educational barriers, economic barriers, and health and wellbeing challenges. A big part of this is lack of voice. Future Black Female is on a mission to amplify their voices and magnify their value in society. We want them to get to the finish line without the burnout and trauma that come from fighting racist systems." - Dr. Tapo Chimbganda, Changemaker


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