Ikem Opara, strategy lead for the Ontario Trillium Foundation, has made a career of bringing communities together, encouraging civil participation and community action by focusing on education and connecting people to engage in neighbourhood issues.
Born in Nigeria, he came to Canada to study at the University of Toronto and credits his time there with fostering his innate interest in inclusivity and diversity.
“U of T gave me the space and allowed me to meet people and engage in issues, connecting people and neighbourhoods to issues bigger than themselves.”
He believes inclusivity and diversity foster the sense of belonging that create healthy communities, encouraging marginalized people to take active roles in their community. His priorities are education, civic engagement and bringing people together to engage in issues—particularly young black men.
A five year resident of Scarborough, he is enthusiastic about his community.
“Scarborough encapsulates the idea of the GTA, and indeed Canada. Everybody comes from somewhere in the world, and we’re all working together for what the community needs.”
To illustrate, he offers this example:
“There is a small park in my neighbourhood. Over the course of the year, an Indigenous artist created a series of paintings on the pavement. Since the spring, there has been a small group of women practicing traditional Chinese dance in the evenings. Over the course of time, the group has been growing to include not only Chinese residents, but different ethnicities and sexes—a black woman in hijab and even a few men—all practicing Chinese dance. To me, that’s Scarborough and Canada at 150 years – starting with Indigenous imagery to all kinds of people coming together in peaceful participation and enjoyment.”