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Internship at Black History Society a transformative experience for criminology grad

Community work provided “reflection and the opportunity to develop and grow”

Photo of: Kevin Lunianga

Community work provided “reflection and the opportunity to develop and grow” for Kevin Lunianga. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Five minutes into a conversation with Kevin Lunianga, it’s likely that the issue of social justice will surface.

Lunianga, 23, who graduated with a BA in criminology in June, is passionate about both equity and social justice, and he is determined to make people aware how imperative they are.

“I am committed to more equality for everyone and want to get people more conscious of inequities and promote dialogue on a larger scale,” Lunianga said.

Growing up in Ottawa as the child of a Rwandan mother and a father from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lunianga struggled with his identity in the capital’s predominantly Caucasian culture; he didn’t know anyone with a similar background or similar experiences. Lunianga’s mother, a diplomat, decided he needed a new perspective and applied for a position in Zimbabwe, where Lunianga and his siblings could be part of the majority culture and learn more about their African heritage. He spent two years there gaining insight and confidence, before returning to Canada to attend the University of Toronto.

“Initially, I wanted to be a lawyer and that’s still possible, but I developed this strong interest in equity and social justice and there is also research I would like to pursue,” he said.

Transformative Experience

The turning point in his plans came during Lunianga’s third year at U of T, when he took the Independent Service Learning course at New College and did an eight-month internship at the Ontario Black History Society as part of the coursework.

“It was easily the best course I’ve taken at U of T,” Lunianga said. “It asked us whether we did community work with a “saviour complex” and taught us how to do it without biases. It required a lot of reflection and the opportunity to develop and grow.”

Lunianga worked to document the oral history of black Ontarians, preparing for in-depth interviews; conducting the interviews; and transcribing them so they could be available to the public in the society’s archives. Among those he interviewed was a Second World War veteran; jazz musician the late Archie Alleyne and Don Meredith, Canada’s fourth African-Canadian senator. He loved the experience.

“There were always common themes about how discrimination exists, how it has changed and how they coped with it,” Lunianga said. “I met up with it growing up in Ontario, and it linked us all together. They had advice for me and I learned so much from them.”

The experience confirmed which career goals were important to Lunianga.

“It solidified the importance of doing work around anti-black racism specifically,” he said. “I realized that it was important to create a history for African-Canadians by African-Canadians. It has informed my interest in policing issues, too.”

Lunianga has had myriad opportunities to discuss his experiences and ideas with fellow students and classmates. He is an elected member of the U of T Students’ Union, an ambassador for the Faculty of Arts & Science, a residence don and a Robarts Library employee. He enjoys meeting people and engaging them in conversations about his interests.

“Now, social justice and equity just creep into every aspect of my life,” he said.

Looking Ahead

Before Lunianga returns to school to pursue his passions, he plans to work for two years and travel while doing so. He has accepted a flight attendant’s position with WestJet Airlines and will have completed his training shortly before convocation.

“I’m excited but nervous about the transition,” he said. “I really built a base and a community home at U of T, and I’m nervous about moving into a setting where I’m not well known.”

With his outgoing nature and curiosity about the ideas of others, Lunianga undoubtedly won’t be unknown for long.