By John Harewood
It came about mainly because of one man’s vision, dream, drive and determination.
The late Dr. Horace Alexis had been a well-known family physician in Ottawa for more than 30 years. He was known as well for his love of horses and horse racing. Having also maintained a keen interest in news about education, he had seen the cutbacks in government support of universities in the 1990s in Ontario and the soaring cost of tuition, books and living expenses so that well-qualified students, especially those in the black community, were being denied their dream of a university education.
Founding of the scholarship fund
So he looked for and found a way to address the problem by approaching the then-Community Foundation of Ottawa-Carleton and depositing the initial capital of $5,000 from his own pocket. Together with another black community member, he signed an agreement with the foundation on May 1, 1996.
That’s how the Black Canadian Scholarship Fund (BCSF) was founded, with the mission and objective of offering scholarships annually to black Canadian students who are “graduating from an Ottawa area high school and/or have been accepted by a recognized Canadian university.”
Dr. Alexis had a clear vision and goal in fundraising. It was a million dollars, which he hoped would grow and provide scholarships in perpetuity. He had a habit of calling the fund “his baby.”
Donations and celebrations
As the fund celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a Virtual Cocktail Party and Silent Auction on September 25, 2021, we may imagine that he would probably smile, concede that it is now a mature adult and then immediately urge everybody to get back to work.
Undoubtedly, it was his ever- present drive and passion that largely explain the remarkable success of the BCSF. Throughout the years, it has attracted dozens of volunteers, including a core group, the Donors’ Committee, comprising 10 to 15 individuals who organize the annual fund-raising events such as the Night at the Races, Golf Tournament, Walkathon, and End of Year Dinner Dance, and continuously solicit community support.
This committee itself is interesting, perhaps because it reflects Canada, drawing its members from different countries and ethnicities, and actively supporting the two official languages. So far, two of its presidents, Michel Decoste and Ted Guillaume, have been Francophones.
Christiane Millett-Alexis, the founder’s widow, a long-standing member of the Donors’ Committee, and his daughters, Dr. Thecla Alexis and Dr. Michele Alexis and their spouses, Yazed Mohamed and Keppel Bharath, have been unwavering in their support.
Also, the response of the Ottawa community has been encouraging with sponsorship from numerous companies and institutions. The Jewish Foundation of Ottawa, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and an individual, Jacques Plante, are amongst the most generous donors. In this anniversary year alone, donations have come from the Ottawa Black Professional and Business Association and the family of the late Leon Silver, an avid supporter in the BCSF’s early years.
But the final indicator of the BCSF’s success is its enviable record – almost three quarters of a million dollars raised!
Maggie Fondong, the first scholarship recipient in 1998, received $10,000 each year for three years. Since then, the award has been $5,000 and non-renewable but was increased to $6,000 in 2013.
The 1999 recipient, Marie-Ange Janvier, is a Ph.D and clinical engineer at CHEO; the 2002 recipients, Bietel Bocretsion and Tatiana Sotindjo, are now doctors here in Ottawa; and one of the 2003 recipients, Aquilas Kapend, is a crown prosecutor. Other years produced a cohort of professionals from criminologists, economists and nurses to senior systems analysts and communications specialists.
With the award of scholarships this year to Hanan Awell, (Nursing, uOttawa), Hayat Chasso, (Social Work, Carleton), Richard Muhindo (Civil Engineering, Carleton), Nura Evans Li (Carleton, and a recent Glebe Collegiate graduate) and Samantha Yoeun (Nursing, uOttawa), the total number of recipients will have reached 68.
Muhindo, the outstanding recipient and winner of the Founder’s Award for 2021, was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lost his father at the age of six and fled under cover of night to Uganda where he spent seven years in a refugee camp before arriving in Canada in 2017. Described by his extra-curricular supervisor as “caring and compassionate,” he captures the spirit of the BCSF when he says, “I plan after my education to also start a scholarship fund to help other deserving students.”
The BCSF has had six presidents of whom one is female, Elizabeth December-Lovell, who has served longest. Fittingly, she will preside over the landmark anniversary celebrations.
John Harewood is a retired educator and a long-standing member of the Black Canadian Scholarship Fund.