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Black History Month – Zanana Akande

BHMFeb5Zanana Akande

Cabinet Minister

Zanana L. Akande (born in 1937) is a former Canadian politician. She was the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and the first Black woman to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education degrees from the University of Toronto, and was also educated at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She was a longtime member of the Federation of Women Teachers Associations of Ontario. She also co-founded Tiger Lily, a newspaper for visible minority women, and once co-hosted a Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival. She was a teacher and school principal before entering politics.

After being elected in Toronto’s St. Andrew/St. Patrick riding in 1990, she was appointed Minister of Community and Social Services. She presided over an increase in welfare benefits to Ontarians at the lowest income level, raised the social assistance rate from 5% to 7% and increased the shelter allowance from 5% to 10%. She also announced $1 million in funding for food banks in an apparent contradiction to NDP policy against supporting such agencies. She believed that the realities of the time meant that food banks were a necessity.

Though she resigned as minister in 1991, she was later made Bob Rae’s Parliamentary Assistant, responsible for the design and implementation of the Jobs Ontario Youth Programme (1991-1994), which created over 5,000 active jobs for youth across the province during the summers.

As of 2009, Akande is retired but continues to be involved in the community, serving as a volunteer on boards and committees of local organizations including the YWCA and Centennial College.