When a devastating injustice shakes society to its core, responses to the shared trauma are deeply individual. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, some posted on social media. Some supported and joined the #BlackLivesMatter actions. Nir Orbach, founder of systems integration and management consulting company Illumiti, a Syntax Company, felt strongly that the organization should do something tangible to help bring about change to systemic racism.
Nir approached Nigel Shuffler, Senior Director Delivery at Illumiti, to ask whether he and other colleagues who identify as Black might be willing to make suggestions on how to advance equity for all.
"So we formed a group," says Nigel. They met regularly, taking time to consider what was happening externally, and contemplating their own situations as part of a relatively well-represented demographic within the organization, able to work through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rehanna Thompson, Marketing Manager, recounts how this introspection led to looking inward and outward. "We asked ourselves, what are the barriers that others are experiencing now?"
Nigel compares systemic barriers to a headwind, one that many in the group had experienced. They considered ways in which education gives people access to jobs that can help them get ahead. "Education is a kind of freedom. It gives people a leg up and can't be taken away. It helps you deal with the spiral that can be created when you're going against 400 years of opposition, opportunities are held back from you, and you're trying to make yourself employable."
Rehanna adds that the struggle is not only about being able to go to school, but also, not having to hold a full-time job while doing so. And then there is the strain of graduating with debt.
It all pointed to supporting students who identify as Black/African financially in a way that could most effectively create groundwork for success—which meant focusing on the demanding, consequential last two years of a school program. They contacted Humber and worked closely with the college to create the Illumiti 'Realize Your Vision' Scholarship.
The name reflects a pillar of Illumiti's work (and that of Syntax, which recently acquired the organization), as well as aspirations for the scholarship recipients.
"We want to support students who identify as Black to help them realize their potential," says Rehanna. "We're hoping with this investment, we can help them a long way by providing them with this monetary resource to help alleviate some of the burden that they're currently under, or help facilitate them towards getting to their long term goals."
The scholarship is awarded to two students who are entering their third year in select programs from within the Faculty of Business or Faculty of Applied Sciences & Technology, who demonstrate financial need, have good academic standing, and self-identify as Black/African. Cognizant of the ways in which their circumstances are often overlooked, the Illumiti group was adamant that applicants be able to tell their stories and be recognized for their strengths. Thus, the process lets students share how they faced challenges and hardship, and demonstrated perseverance in their academic journeys.
Following the initial award, students who remain in good standing are eligible to renew the award in their fourth year, making this a two-year scholarship for each of two students.
On March 30, 2022, the Illumiti group will meet the first scholarship recipient. Anticipation is palpable as the team looks forward to discussing shared experiences with her. It's clear that the chance for their stories to be heard will not end with the scholarship application. Indeed, the Illumiti team have been mulling over more ways in which to extend meaningful, impactful support to the community—through mentorship, helping with contacts, sharing knowledge and insights.
Behind and beyond the critical financial support lies an even more important purpose, one that Nigel articulates as he recalls the fate of George Floyd.
"We want our recipients to understand: your life matters to us. Your struggle matters to us. We see you working through it, and we want to help you."
For questions or inquiries about how you can support Humber students through a scholarship, contact the Advancement and Alumni department at email@example.com.