The Black Research Network: Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children,” Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

Fast forward to almost 61 years in the future, how much has changed in 2024? 

Everyone is equal under the law, but if this speech was given today, we would still nod our heads in agreement and those who identify with a minority group would still recognize that now is the time for change, even if it’s been 61 years. This reality in 1963 and the same situation right now in 2024. Equality and racial justice are just a mirage when it comes down to the treatment of Black individuals by those with power. In 2024, Black individuals still demand to be put on the same scale of importance and be treated without being racially profiled within the justice systems. 

University of Toronto Mississauga Sociology Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah has dedicated his research to combating racial injustice. “Black people in Canada have a long history of mistrust and experiences of injustice with our criminal justice systems. For as long as Black people have existed here, our legal and justice institutions have served to oppress them. We know significant changes need to be made to the way we administer justice in this country,” said Professor Owusu-Bempah, who is also on the committee of Canada’s Black Justice Strategy. Working with eight other distinguished Black community leaders, Professor Owusu-Bempah is developing a final strategy report in February 2024, which will provide recommendations for proactive actions to address the anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination that is prevalent in the Canadian criminal justice system. It will also suggest clear actions to reform and modernize the current criminal justice system. 

The final strategy report Professor Owusu-Bempah is working on is an initiative brought forth by the Liberal government after the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. It takes a lot of people and voices to bring upon change in society. Before the BLM movement, the Canadian government failed to recognize that there was any injustice within our systems. Black Canadians are significantly overrepresented in the federal prison systems, accounting for 7.3 per cent of the prison population when they only represent 3.5 per cent of the greater population. These discrepancies only push racist ideologies forward, encouraging and justifying heinous acts through law enforcement and social discourse. This shows how deeply rooted injustice is within our government systems, setting up Black individuals for failure and to endure injustice. 

Zilla Jones, another member of Canada’s Black Justice Strategy explains, “[The Strategy] is a historic acknowledgment by the Government of Canada that systemic anti-Black racism exists in Canada and that it has poisoned our justice system, negatively impacting the integrity of our communities and the futures of our children. This initiative aims to give real meaning to the principles of redress and reconciliation.” 

As a university, we should be bringing these initiatives within our systems as well. Alongside our professors, it is also our duty to carry out these efforts by spreading awareness, having these difficult conversations, and celebrating Black individuals’ achievements within our communities. It is not enough to rely on just our distinguished professors. These ideologies of racial justice need to be pushed into all sectors systems from governmental to educational institutions, hospitals, corporations, and our own social circles. The power for change is in our hands. Be a part of the solution and the person that starts the conversation wherever you go. It does not have to be in front of a large crowd; it can be amongst your peers and friends, on your social media, or other proactive ways to diminish these racist systems. 

Associate Features Editor (Volume 50) — Rafiqa is a recent graduate from the Professional Writing and Communication program in which she wrote her first novel The Custard Apple Tree, an ode to her grandmother who survived the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition. Drawing on her background as an author specializing in historical fiction and a love for storytelling, Rafiqa hopes to bring forward compelling articles challenging Western narratives and societal stigmas and bridging a pathway for diversity. She hopes her experience at The Medium will be a platform for her to bring unheard and oppressed voices to be heard through human interest stories and other interesting articles!


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