June 4, 2021
Convocation 2021: alumni welcome by Kehinde Ekpudu
The daughter of a career diplomat, UCalgary alumna Kehinde Ekpudu, MBA, MSW ‘18, RSW, became engaged with broad societal issues from a young age. As her family moved between far-flung postings – Czech Republic, Egypt, Rome, and Australia, among others – her father encouraged discussion pertaining to topics such as global development, politics, and health care.
Ekpudu says that while these conversations kindled a passion for social justice, she initially didn’t necessarily see a career path for herself that involved engaging in community and activism. Instead, she opted to pursue an undergraduate degree in finance.
“I worked in that industry for a bit, but I never felt connected to the profession,” she recalls. “I felt that there was something missing. I knew that I wanted to help people, but I didn't know what the word was, what the profession was or what that looked like.”
Her ‘eureka’ moment occurred in 2013, when Ekpudu took a global development graduate certificate course at Queens University in Kingston. In meeting with one of her professors, the discussion turned to the impact of development and healthcare in countries with high rates of poverty.
“I asked my prof, 'Oh, how do I get into this type of work?',” she says. “He just said, 'social work.' And that was it.”
Ekpudu and her husband immigrated to Canada from Nigeria in 2016, and she enrolled as student in the Faculty of Social Work that same year. Naturally, she was drawn to research in those areas that she first encountered in her travels as a diplomat’s daughter: activism and social justice, mental health, community development. In 2017, she was awarded the PURE (Program for Undergraduate Research) grant, which she used to study the immigrant experiences of other Nigerian women in Calgary. This work in turn was recognized by the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Internationally Focused Research.
Additionally, the Faculty of Social Work honoured her achievements as a student with two major awards: the Recognition of Excellence Award – Student Leadership in 2018 and the Clarice Chodak Recognition of Excellence in Social Action Award in 2019.
Perhaps most significantly, in 2018, Ekpudu connected with three other registered social workers and together they founded the Alberta Association of Black Social Workers in 2020.
Ekpudu returns to the faculty – at least in virtual form – for its Online Convocation Reception on June 10 at 4 p.m. (passcode: 857215) in which she’ll provide the alumni welcome.
Kehinde Akpudu Q+A
Q: How did you come to co-found the Alberta Association of Black Social Workers?
A: So, the story is, I went for a workshop back in August of 2018. It was a private practice workshop that was led by the ACSW. As usual, we're in a sea of white people, and all of the Black folks kind of gravitated to each other during lunchtime. We were just having a conversation – we were about five women – just talking about our profession and things like that. And we just said, "You know what? We should stay connected."
I created an online group and folks just started joining. People I didn't even know, asking, ‘Could I add this Black social worker to this group?’ It just grew. That inspired a student online group that has about a hundred students. They're from different parts of different schools in Alberta. Then, we have a group of over eighty members who are professionals working in the field. We connect on issues, we support each other, we talk about our experiences. Because you need to understand that as Black social workers specifically, we still feel isolated. We still experience discrimination – workplace discrimination, discrimination from our clients.
I feel like that the online group in particular was a place where people could just come and talk and support themselves. We would help each other, mentor each other, provide referrals for each other, and so forth. From there we decided to have – after the George Floyd situation – our first virtual meeting and everyone was so excited to be part of it.
After many conversations we just said, 'You know, what? Why don't we formalize and become an association?' I know folks will say 'Oh, but you're in a college. As registered social workers you're all part of a college.' But when we looked for a space within the [Alberta College of Social Workers], we were denied a couple of times. I think that ignited a passion for us to come together and really formalize and become an association.
Q: What do you hope for this group?
A: I think one of my major aspirations is to build a sense of build a community. Every year Canada, Alberta and Calgary are increasing the number of immigrants that are coming in. How do we embrace them? How do we make this space – this city, this province – habitable for them? I think that's a huge gap in all institutions. How do we meet the needs of these individuals? How do we cater to them? What I tell members in our Association is we first need to support ourselves as social workers before we can provide that support to the community – strengthening ourselves, strengthening our association. Then, we’ll be able to provide support to the Black community in particular.
Q: What advice do you have for the Class of 2021?
A: I think I'll go back to relationships and connections. I think those are the basis of our profession as social workers. It's so weird for me to say that, especially during this pandemic where we’re being told to isolate and not to connect, but we've been able to form those connections through Zoom. This association was born during COVID 19. Before the pandemic, when we first tried to get people to meet, we were unsuccessful. But let's send a virtual meeting invite right now during COVID and everyone's attending.
Where I come from, it takes a village to accomplish anything. There's another cliché: “no man is an island.” We can't do it by ourselves. We can't accomplish it by ourselves. When I give my address, the things I'm going to highlight are relationship and connections, and the fact that I didn't do it on my own. I’ve had mentors all along the way that helped me. I’ve had people that inspired me. I developed a network of people who pushed me. I give a lot of credit to the people I surrounded myself with that inspired me and encouraged me, even when I didn't even believe in myself.
We hope you'll join our Faculty of Social Work Zoom convocation celebration Thursday, June 10, 4 - 5:30 p.m. Passcode: 857215