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NEXT LEVEL: NDP's Sarah Jama elected next MPP in provincial Hamilton Centre byelection; Connaught Fund giving $250K for Black health equity research

"Next Level" spotlights prominent Black Canadians who have been promoted, elevated, or honoured with a prestigious position, award, or monument. Check out Part 7 of the series.

NEXT LEVEL: NDP's Sarah Jama elected next MPP in provincial Hamilton Centre byelection; Connaught Fund giving $250K for Black health equity research
Sarah Jama with her campaign team following her win to become MPP-elect of Hamilton Centre. CAMERON KROETSCH PHOTO/TWITTER

The riding of Hamilton Centre stayed orange Thursday, remaining an Ontario NDP stronghold following a byelection and landslide victory by candidate Sarah Jama.

“It is very clear that Hamilton Centre wants somebody who’s going to take on Doug Ford and his plans to privatize our health care system,” she said, according to the Hamilton Spectator. “Hamilton Centre wants someone who’s going to make sure we’re fighting to create affordable cities. And Hamilton Centre sure as hell showed that I am that person as their next MPP.”

The incoming Black and Somalian MPP, who is a disability rights advocate and co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, won 54.3 per cent of the vote (9,560 ballots) and distanced herself from the nearest competitor by more than 6,000 ballots.

“We did it! Not only did we show (that) people who don't normally fit in processes could be political, could take up seats at Queen's Park, we also showed we could do this with resounding power,” Jama told a crowd of 100 gathered at Westinghouse HQ in Hamilton, Ont, alongside party leader Marit Stiles.

Jama beat out nine other candidates, including Liberal runner-up Deidre Pike, a community advocate and researcher, who got 20.1 per cent (3,535 ballots).

Pete Wiesner, a Hamilton police sergeant running as a progressive conservative and former manager of a crisis response unit for those with severe addiction and mental health issues, came in third with 15.5 per cent of the vote.

See some of the reactions to her win:

Strong social and political background

Jama has been a fierce advocate for social issues, including poverty, equity and inclusion, and homelessness.

She is a McMaster University alumnus who received the YWCA Women of Excellence Award in 2022 and the John C. Holland Award for political activity in 2017.

Jama also participated in a protest demanding the defunding of the police at city hall in November 2020. Additionally, she was detained in November 2021 following a confrontation between the police and demonstrators at a homeless camp that was being destroyed following a fire, according to the Hamilton Spectator.

Her run for political office came as former NDP MPP and leader Andrea Horwath, now mayor of Hamilton, stepped down last summer.

The Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East respond to criticism from Jewish organizations

Despite the landslide win, Jama’s candidacy was attacked by Jewish organizations for her pro-Palestinian activism and stance. Some called her past comments “antisemitic”, according to the Spectator.

In a statement on March 6, B'nai Brith Canada demanded that the NDP drop Jama's candidature, calling her a “radical activist who has been affiliated with groups that have regularly targeted Israel.”

When speaking at a pro-Palestine event in Toronto in 2021, the candidate is seen in a video accusing Hamilton police of shielding “Nazism,” according to the watchdog group Documenting Antisemitism, which tweeted a clip on Tuesday (March 14).

The comment, according to Jama's campaign, was made about a violent incident that happened at a Pride celebration in Gage Park in June 2019.

Jama apologized for any misinterpretation understood because of her past comments Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East released a statement Thursday (March 16), accusing Jewish groups of conducting a smear campaign to discredit her.

“During the recent byelection in Hamilton Centre, Ontario NDP candidate Sarah Jama was unfairly targeted in a smear campaign that directly conflated her criticism of Isreal’s apartheid policies with antisemitism,” a statement from the organization reads.

“We are encouraged to see that these unfair attacks on Jama did not succeed and that the people of Hamilton Centre saw through this cynical attempt to silence a principled human rights advocate. We look forward to seeing Jama continue her courageous advocacy for Palestinian human rights as she takes her new role in Queen’s Park.”

U of T Connaught Fund gives $250K for Black health equity research

Assistant professor Notisha Massaquoi. U OF T PHOTO

The U of T Black Research Network has received $250,000 for a new research project to support Black health equity across all three campuses.

The project will involve 13 Black researchers who will study the social determinants of health, which are the personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that impact individual and population health, according to a statement.

“We have researchers across U of T doing excellent work, but much of it is being done in silos,” Notisha Massaquoi, an assistant professor in the department of health and society at U of T Scarborough, and BRN project leader, said in a statement. “We’re taking an interdisciplinary approach by focusing on the social determinants of health, and then coming up with positive solutions to change health outcomes in Black communities.”

She added that some research areas will include access to quality education, the social economy and poverty alleviation, and post-homicide support services, among others.

“The hope is that we can start moving away from doing research that tells us over and over again that we have higher rates of illness and move towards finding solutions for these health disparities,” Massaquoi said.

“If Black women have higher rates of breast cancer, what programs or educational campaigns can we develop to address the issue? We want to use the research process to mobilize and provide solutions to these disparities that we know exist.”

The project will include a space for junior and student researchers to enhance their skills.

Furthermore, two researchers will also receive support for their projects: Janelle Joseph, an assistant professor from the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, and Brice Lionel Batomen Kuimi, an assistant professor from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Founded more than 50 years ago, the Connaught Fund, created through the sale of Connaught Medical Research Laboratories, has provided more than $182.3 million to U of T scholars.