June 19, 2024

UCalgary’s first Black Brilliance Celebration honours Black graduates, student leaders and faculty mentors

Landmark gathering dedicated to recognizing Black flourishing
Students, faculty, and staff stand in front of ‘2024’ sign at the Black Brilliance Celebration
Students, faculty, and staff stand in front of ‘2024’ sign at the Black Brilliance Celebration Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

In a historic event, student leaders Sinit Abraha, Misgana Abraha, and Semhar Abraha collaborated with the University of Calgary to host the inaugural Black Brilliance Celebration on June 7. This landmark gathering was dedicated to recognizing Black flourishing and celebrating the achievements of the institution’s recently graduated Black scholars. It brought together students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members in an inspiring display of unity, inclusivity, and belonging.

The evening celebrated some of the outstanding Black graduates, whose academic excellence, leadership and community engagement have set a new standard of meaningful inclusion for continuing students, alumni and future generations. The evening recognized four student leaders, a dean, and three faculty members who have supported Black flourishing at UCalgary.

The theme of the evening, “Black flourishing” is a core principle in the university's commitment to the Scarborough Charter, a commitment made by over 60 signatory institutions across Canada to combat anti-Black racism and foster Black inclusion in higher education.

“Tonight is an important reminder of the profound impact that higher education institutions play in creating supportive environments for Black flourishing for this and future generations of Black scholars," said Dr. Malinda Smith, vice-provost and associate vice-president research (equity, diversity and inclusion). 

“Your journey and success are sources of strength and inspiration to the UCalgary community and beyond. Now, more than ever, this is a time for your ingenuity, inventiveness, creativity and brilliance, and for the very best that you have got to give. We are excited to see what the future holds for you.”

In her opening remarks, Verity Turpin, vice-provost (student experience) emphasized the significance of the celebration: “Tonight’s celebration highlights the importance of creating positive experiences that empower our Black students to thrive academically and personally. We are incredibly proud of their achievements and are committed to continuing to enhance their university experience.”

The event was held in collaboration with African, Caribbean and Black Canadian student clubs, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (OEDI), the Office of the Provost and Vice-President Academic, the Office of Student Experience, the Office of the Registrar, and the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

"I’m excited to be part of this powerful affirmation of our commitment to dismantling systemic barriers and creating a space where all Black students can thrive,” said Sinit Abraha, BA’23, political science graduate, and an event co-organizer.

This celebration is also a significant step in building relationships with future Black students who aspire to an academic environment in which they can thrive and serve as engaged leaders to bring about change.

“This event shows that our voices and achievements matter, and it inspires me to keep pushing forward, knowing that I am part of a supportive and inclusive community,” said Misgana Abraha, a student leader and event co-organizer in the Faculty of Science.

In recognition of the outstanding leadership demonstrated by the students, they received $1,000 in funding from TD Bank. The students identified four individuals, decided by student vote, each of whom will receive $250.


Semhar Estifanos Abraha

Semhar Abraha exemplifies academic excellence, leadership, and social justice commitment. Completing her undergraduate and law degrees in six years, she earned numerous awards, and was awarded a spot on the Dean's List. Abraha founded the Violet King Engaged Scholar Award and co-founded the African Studies Task Force, while also excelling in legal competitions and internships.

Victory Abraham

Abraham, an Ethiopian and Eritrean Law and Society graduate, is also obtaining a Mental Well-being and Resilience certificate. Aspiring to become a lawyer, she leads the Ethiopian and Eritrean Students Association and mentors Black youth. Abraham has received multiple scholarships and awards for her dedication and leadership and was a recipient of the 2023 Violet King Award.

Valentine Kemunto Ogechi 

Ogechi is a recent Mechanical Engineering graduate with a minor in Digital Engineering who excelled academically and was awarded a spot on the Dean's List. She completed an award-winning senior project on Automated Cell Culturing for use cancer treatment. She gained hands-on experience through internships and promoted STEM education among under-represented groups. Recognized with multiple awards, Ogechi was also the president of the African Caribbean Students Association (ACSA).

Eyerusalem Ameha Tadese

Tadese is a recent biological sciences graduate and excels in genetics, microbiology, ecology, and biochemistry, earning multiple Dean’s List honors. Through an intensive internship, they gained hands-on experience in biomedical research and environmental monitoring. Passionate about community service, Tadese promoted STEM education among under-represented youth. Their achievements include the Biological Sciences Academic Excellence Award and the Outstanding Intern Award.

Four faculty members were awarded for their inclusive leadership and the mentoring support they have provided to Black students. Their dedication to teaching, research, and community engagement has not only enriched our university but also contributed significantly to combating anti-Black racism and advancing equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility.

Ian Holloway

Dean of Law

Dr. Ian Holloway, LLD, PhD, has served as dean of law since 2011. Prior to this, he served as dean at another Canadian law school and as associate dean at the Australian National University. Holloway is a graduate of Dalhousie University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Australian National University, with additional education from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. 

In 2003, he was elected to the American Law Institute, and in 2004, he was appointed Queen’s Counsel. In 2018, he became the first Canadian legal academic elected a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Holloway is a member of several legal societies and has held numerous advisory roles, including on the vice-regal selection committee for the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. 

His impact and innovations through his new curriculum design were celebrated widely. Holloway also served 25 years in the Royal Canadian and Royal Australian Navies.

Nicole Johnson

Clinical associate professor

Dr. Nicole Johnson, PhD, is a clinical paediatric rheumatologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. She is also a clinical associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine, advocating for children with rheumatic diseases. Johnson's commitment to community awareness and medical education, coupled with her research and clinical practice, make her a respected figure in paediatric rheumatology. 

She also participates in Canadian and international clinical research of childhood rheumatic diseases. Her contributions to inspiring women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) was recognized with the Calgary Black Achievement Award for STEM in 2021. In 2023, she received the inaugural award for mentorship from the Black Physicians of Canada.

Jennifer D. Adams


Dr. Jennifer D. Adams, PhD, is a professor and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair of Creativity and STEM and in the Department of Chemistry. She leads the Creativity, Equity, and STEM Lab, focusing on equity in STEM teaching and learning environments. She is also a mentor in the Canadian Black Science Student Network and a leader in the Canadian Black Scientist Network. 

Adams is actively involved in national projects promoting Black student visibility and support in STEM fields. She also serves on the editorial board for Cultural Studies in Science Education, Journal of Research in Science Education and International Journal of Informal Science and Environmental Learning. She won the 2022 STEM Award at the Calgary Black Achievement Awards.

Gideon Christian


Dr. Gideon Christian, LLB, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law who brings a diverse background in law and technology. With degrees from the University of Lagos and the University of Ottawa, Christian has excelled in academia and legal practice. During his doctoral studies, he was a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council – Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Doctoral Scholar. 

Currently, he is a director on the boards of the Canadian Legal Information Institute and Lexum, recognized as one of the Top 20 Compelling Calgarians by the Calgary Herald in 2024. He is a nominee for the 2024 City of Calgary Awards in the Education category.

Recommit to equity and inclusive experience

As UCalgary celebrates the accomplishments of the Class of 2024, it's an opportunity to recommit creating equitable and inclusive experiences, mitigating biases, dismantling systemic barriers, and fostering campus spaces in which all members of our university community can flourish. Together, UCalgary can uphold the principles of the Scarborough Charter and continue building connections for Black brilliance and flourishing.

Members of the Black Brilliance Celebration Committee: Naomie Bakana, Eyerusalem Tadese, Maeva Kouakou, Ruvimbo Mutyanda, Malinda Smith, Aaron Omusuku, Misgana Abraha, Lorraine Ndovi. Front from left: Simchah Atanda, Semhar Abraha, Sinit Abraha, Ebenezer Belayneh.