Presenter and Moderator Biographies
Over the past 25 years, Abi Ajibolade has been committed to end violence against women and children. As an attorney called to the Nigerian Bar, and with a Certificate in Qualification from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, Abi is a social justice worker with extensive experience in women's and children's rights advocacy. Her role in the Federal government of Nigeria's legal system included playing an integral part in a committee involved in a nation-wide human rights legislation review. In Abi's current role as Executive Director of The Redwood, she continues to be a strong advocate and change-maker working to advance gender equity, social and racial justice, and ending all forms of gender-based violence. Abi's forward-thinking leadership and innovation in practice continues to be recognized. In 2018 she received the Visionary Leadership award from Ontario Office Victims of Crime and was awarded a scholarship at Harvard Business School's program, Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management. More recently, she was awarded the winner for 2019 Pioneers for Change from Skills for Change. Abi is a Registered Psychotherapist, Certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified Crisis Prevention Intervention Instructor, and Commissioner for Taking Affidavits in the Province of Ontario.
Jacqueline Benn-John, PhD, ABD, is the Executive Director of the Women’s Support Network of York Region, a consultant and community engaged educator. Her doctoral research seeks to understand the perspectives and experiences of African/Black women who provide service to survivors of sexual violence, and the multifaceted and intersectional modes of expressing resistance through feminist violence prevention work in rape crisis centres within Ontario.
Jacqueline has over 25 years of grassroots and professional work experience in the social service sector, feminist organizing and community development, and within family service and anti-violence organizations. Since 2001, Jacqueline has been cofacilitating groups supporting mothers and children in healing from their exposure to violence within the home. She also cofacilitates group education/counselling to individuals who have been mandated by the court to attend the Partner Assault Response program in response to a criminal charge involving domestic violence.
Jacqueline has also advised the Ontario government on numerous program and policy initiatives in the anti-violence sector. In 2017, as a Senior Research Consultant, Jacqueline collaborated with Shore Consulting to undertake a review of the Ministry of the Status of Women’s Sexual Violence Counselling Services and Helplines across Ontario. Since 2016, she develops and delivers trainings for the Toronto Hostels Training Centre: Working with Abused Women and Children and Working with Families with special considerations for Immigrant and Refugee communities.
Jacqueline has been teaching for the past 13 years across the greater Toronto area. Currently, she is teaching in the Criminal Justice, and Community and Justice Services Programs at Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning in courses such as Crisis Intervention and Trauma, Mental Health Foundations, Conflict Management and Counselling Theory and Practice. Jacqueline also taught in the Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counsellor/ Advocate Program at George Brown College for 12 years.
Debbie Douglas is the Executive Director of OCASI - the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. Through her work in the NGO sector and particularly at OCASI, Ms. Douglas has highlighted issues of equity and inclusion including race, gender and sexual orientation within the immigration system and promoted the creation of safe, welcoming spaces within the settlement and integration sector.
A well-known face in Ontario and across the country, Ms. Douglas is often called upon by governments to share her expertise. She was a member of the province of Ontario’s Expert Panel on Immigration which published the report Routes to Success and led to the province’s first immigration legislation (2015); she was also a member of the provincial government’s Income Security Reform Working Group, which in October of 2017 published Income Security: A Roadmap for Change. Ms.Douglas is a member of the Immigration and Refugee Advisory Committee of Legal Aid Ontario and the federal government’s National Settlement & Integration Council, co-chairs the City of Toronto’s Newcomer Leadership Table and was appointed as a member of the provinces roundtable on Violence Against Women, and co-chaired the provincial Anti-Black Racism subcommittee. She is currently on the Board of Directors for Toronto Community Housing Corporation and the Stephan Lewis Foundation.
She is the recipient of several awards including the Women of Distinction from YWCA Toronto (2004), the Amino Malko award from the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (2008), and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations Anti-Racism Award (2014).
Esther is a trauma informed counsellor and a guest lecturer and trainer on gender-based violence, diversity and inclusion, human rights and social justice. Her work is grounded in an integrated anti-racist/anti-oppression and feminist analysis, a holistic approach in which a person's experience and realities of life are not fragmented and divided. Esther has been working in the human service field for over 30 years. She has a BA (Hons) in Sociology and Women’s Studies, Trauma Informed Counselling Certification, and an MBA. She is married with 3 adult children.
Hirut Melaku is an emerging scholar and healthcare practitioner (lactation consultant, birth companion), concerned with racial inequity, sexual violence, and LGBTQ2S+ issues. The investigative and reporting work that she has done in the last 20 years has been used by many, including the United Nations, to determine humanitarian aid, and by local players to develop initiatives, programs, and interventions in the area of mental health and gender-based violence. Transformative justice, as a framework, guides all aspects of her work including her current role as a facilitator and advisor to the Toronto Dance Community in addressing workplace harm.She contributes to repairing the world as a healer, nurturer, and as a speaker of truth. Hirut credits her ancestors, distinctive background, and identities (Beta Israel, queer, mother of a gifted child who is differently-abled) for keeping her grounded and connected. She is a co-founder of the Third Eye Collective, a survivor-led organization for Black women who have experienced violence. Click on the following links to read about some of Hirut’s work: www.hirut.org, www.thirdeyemontreal.com.
Yamikani (they/them or ze-hir) is a black genderqueer Malawian arrivant-settler currently living within the Dish With One Spoon Wampum treaty territory, who grew up on Algonquin Territory. Yami is an anti-violence educator, support worker and movement based facilitator. They love building containers for connections to be forged, and holding space for individual, community, and systems transformation. Their lens to the anti-violence liberation movement is intersectional and centers disability and healing justice organizing.
Yamikani has held positions such as Black Academic Success and Engagement Coordinator at Humber College and Vice-Chair of Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres. Yami currently sits on the eQuality Project Advisory and is featured in Violence Interrupted: Confronting Sexual Violence on University Campuses with Jane Bailey and Suzie Dunn. In 2017, Yamikani founded Seeds, a yoga program that centers the needs of survivors of sexual violence. Click here to learn more about hir work: www.yamimsosa.com.
Debbie is a Black feminist with over 8 years of local and international advocacy experience in a variety of roles ranging from programming and counselling to policy analysis and project management. She is the new Executive Director at the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD).
She has had the pleasure of bridging her passion for social justice with international development at Oxfam Canada and volunteering with feminists organizations like the Ottawa Dyke March, Harmony House Women’s Shelter, and Planned Parenthood Ottawa. She is also a board member of the Venus Envy Access Fund creating funding opportunities for members of the community she loves so much.
When Debbie isn't yelling into a megaphone at protests or organizing events, she's probably on a field somewhere playing rugby. Or baking a cake.
Kyisha Williams (name/they/she) is a Toronto-born Black queer actor, director, model, and health promoter. Kyisha fuses public health (MPH) and digital media by creating socially relevant content that discusses health and promotes healthy sexuality/ consent culture. Kyisha directed their first short film Red Lips [cages for Black girls] in 2010. They then completed a Masters in Public Health in 2016. In 2018, they co-directed their second short film, Queen of Hearts, winner of the 2017 BravoFact pitch competition, now gaining international attention. Kyisha has acted in over 20 short films and TV shows.
Ravyn Wngz is an African, Bermudian, Mohawk, 2Spirit, queer and transcendent individual. Ravyn aims to challenge mainstream arts and dance spaces by sharing her stories while continuing to create opportunities and platforms for marginalized LGBTTIQQ2S people with a focus on African/Black communities. Ravyn is a co-founder of ILL NANA/DiverseCity Dance Company - a queer multiracial dance company that aims to change the landscape of dance and provide accessible affirming dance education to the LGBTTIQQ2S community. Ravyn is the artistic director of OVA - Outrageous Victorious Africans Collective - a Dance/Theatre collective that share the contemporary voices of African/Black and Queer/Self Identified storytellers. Ravyn is part of Black Lives Matter Toronto steering committee, a group who are committed to eradicating all forms of anti-Black racism, supporting Black healing and liberating Black communities.
Rachel Zellars, JD, PhD is a lawyer and professor at Saint Mary's University in the Department of Social Justice and Community Studies. Her research focuses on the history of slavery in the Maritimes and the lives of Black enslaved women. As a community organizer, she is a lifelong student of transformative justice, and recently co-founder of The African Nova Scotian Freedom School and co-founder of BLM Solidarity Fund, which has raised over $300,00 since March 2020 for community members in need. She is also a nationally recognized expert on implicit bias and consults for a number of federal agencies. Most importantly, she is mother to Ade, Zora, and Sade.