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OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

Tribute to inspiring leaders at OPSEU/SEFPO’s Wellesley office

Large banner hanging at the side of building
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OPSEU/SEFPO hosted an informal, and at times emotional, tribute this week to three leaders who have made profound contributions to Ontario and are being honoured with a new banner at the union’s downtown Toronto office.

The banner features former OPSEU/SEFPO President Fred Upshaw, the first Black person to lead a Canadian union; Jamaican Canadian businessman and prominent philanthropist Denham Jolly; and Community activist and former leader of the Harriett Tubman Community Organization Ekua Walcott.
OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas was joined by family members of the three leaders honoured on the banner, including Fred Upshaw Jr., the son of the former OPSEU/SEFPO leader.

Thomas described Upshaw as a mentor and friend and spoke of his predecessor’s ability to negotiate and motivate others for success.

“Fred had an amazing talent to win in negotiations,” said Thomas. “One of his most profound contributions was getting the government to agree to the creation of OPSEU Pension Trust, which provides secure defined benefit pensions for tens of thousands of OPSEU/SEFPO members. I hope that other racialized workers will be inspired to continue in Fred’s footsteps.”

On hand to observe the dedication was the artist responsible for the creation of the Legacy poster, Robert Small. Robert creates a poster every year for Black History Month and his work is well known across the province. This year’s poster was used to create the commissioned piece now hanging on the west side of OPSEU/SEFPO’s office at 31 Wellesley Street.

Peter Thompson, chair of the OPSEU/SEFPO Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW), told the group: “As well as the banner honouring Fred Upshaw, there will also be an annual award and scholarship in Fred’s name. Starting next year, these two acknowledgments will be given to individuals who reflect Fred’s qualities.”

Ekua Walcott was featured for all she did to lift her community up, particularly through her work as the Executive Director of the Harriet Tubman Community Organization. In this role, she supported Black youth, creating programs to foster their identity development, skills and education, and created safe spaces for them to learn and grow.

Denham Jolly was recognized for his philanthropy and for his formidable achievements in publishing and broadcasting, including being the first Black owner of radio station FLOW 93.5. Jolly also sat on the board of Surrey Place, a Toronto agency that provides assistance to people living with developmental disabilities. Jolly was recently inducted into the Order of Canada.

Group of people in face masks standing in front of banner outside buildingGroup of 3 men in face masks standing in front of banner outside of a building