By Neil Armstrong
|Photo contributed Toyo Ajibolade, 2018YWCA Toronto Young Woman of Distinction Award recipient.|
Toyo Ajibolade, a mentor, coach and third-year student at Ryerson University, is the recipient of the 2018 YWCA Toronto Young Woman of Distinction award.
Ajibolade, who is studying marketing management, has turned the game of basketball into an empowering playing field.
She has developed Lady Ballers Camp – a girl-centred organization providing recreational and accessible basketball and sport programming to youth, particularly those from marginalized and racialized communities.
“Being an organization that focuses on providing affordable programming to young women and girls that is also driven and led by a group of young people has had it share of obstacles,” she says.
There have been challenges with funding, finding spaces and even just being recognized as a youth-led organization, she said, noting that the award was “important in validating our work as women and our voices as leaders.”
“ It is important to continue encouraging these spaces, so we can hear more diverse stories, have more inclusive voices in our dominant discourse and then we can create more comprehensive changes across all industries.”
At 16, Ajobolade was selected as the youngest recipient of Girls Action Foundation’s Leadership Capacity Grant program.
She used that opportunity to create the “DUNK Like a Girl” initiative, a program combining basketball training and fitness with interactive workshops, focused on issues affecting all girls such as gender stereotypes, relationships, violence, and self-care.
She was among eight women who received YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction awards at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on May 24.
The other recipients are: Zanana Akande (public service); Dr. Pat Armstrong (health and education), Julia Deans (business), Lynn Factor (president’s award), Margaret Hancock (social justice), Marcie Ponte (community builder), and Dr. Milica Radisic (health science).
“All the women that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing this stage and receiving this award with have all made important contributions to their diverse fields. Contributions that have inspired not only girls and women, but entire communities. That’s why Melinda Gates said, ‘when you invest in women, you invest in the people who invest in everyone else.’
"So, let us all continue to support each other, motivate each other, and uplift each other so we as a community can make a better present and an even better future for every single person in it,” said Ajibolade ending her acceptance speech.
Her primary objective is to be a bridge for young racialized women who are limited not by skill or determination, but by finance and opportunity.
In 2013, she was a recipient of the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Community Award from the office of the Ontario Women’s Directorate for her dedication “to making the experiences had by people around her better and her ability to build bridges in the community.”
Two years later, in December 2015, Ajibolade wrote a very compelling grant application to Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (MLSE) for Lady Ballers Camp and received the Toronto Raptors Community Action grant for this young organization.
In 2017, Ajibolade was given the Citizen’s MVP award for community service by the Toronto Raptors.