She created a space for Black students and alumni to connect and support each other
At Concordia University, Temilade Akin-Aina founded the Black Alumni Council and Network
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When Temilade Akin-Aina started working at alumni relations at Concordia University, she would hear from former students looking for a way to get in touch with other Black alumni.
"Every time McGill had a Black alumni meeting, I would get calls from Concordia grads," she said. Attending McGill University's meetings fed their appetite to see a similar initiative linked to their own alma mater.
So working with Concordia's Black alumni, Akin-Aina helped set up a council to reach out to others and gauge interest.
In 2019, they launched Concordia's Black Alumni Network with a reunion event during homecoming. The event quickly sold out. Many of those who attended hadn't been on campus since they graduated.
"It was this absolutely beautiful validation," said Akin-Aina, a first-generation Nigerian immigrant who moved to Montreal to attend university.
"It was just this intergenerational, inter-industry opportunity for people to be in this room, engage, chat, reconnect."
Seeing her fellow alumni gathered, all dressed up, felt like when the film Black Panther first came out in theatres.
Finding a common thread
Akin-Aina, an associate director of alumni relations at the university, said engaging the Concordia community is at the heart of what she does.
Traditionally, alumni engagement has been organized by faculty or region. She wanted to do things differently, bringing together current and former students through another common thread.
She felt past alumni events had been inclusive, but she said it's another thing to "see different communities feeling at home in your space."
That's something she believes the Black Alumni Network and Council has achieved.
"Student clubs do give you that opportunity to be rooted in a community. But then you kind of go off into the workforce, and there may be situations or scenarios where there are only just a few minorities in the room," she said.
"Yes, people have friends, but I think people can always benefit from more people."
Those benefits include being able to ask questions and expand your idea of what opportunities are available to you.
Another way Akin-Aina has helped connect students and alumni is through the Black Student Career Development Series which, over three virtual sessions, has brought together more than 250 students and alumni to share information about what career paths are out there.
"It's been this incredible moment of lift and connection," she said.
Akin-Aina also leads a subcommittee of the President's Task Force for Anti-Black Racism at Concordia, focusing on fundraising and community engagement.
"Most of the work we were doing in the past was from a race-neutral point of view," she said. "You have no data as to whether everybody is having the same experience."
That could mean looking at co-op placements, for example, to see whether some students have more positive experiences than others, depending on their background. Or it could mean finding out whether students who take advantage of some opportunities are only those getting financial support from their families.
A final draft of the task force's recommendations is expected to be sent to Concordia's president, Graham Carr, this summer.
The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.