BBA’s Black Health Conference is making a better yesterday 

Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Since 2020, the Black BHSc association has been a rapidly growing organization that breaks racial barriers and provides opportunities to promote black excellence

By Patricia Marcelo

The Black BHSc Association was created by a group of black BHSc students with the goal of fostering a supportive environment among current and prospective black BHSc students. In 2021, black students made up 2 per cent of the BHSc population. After almost 4 years, the number of black students in the BHsc program has nearly doubled.  

President of the BBA executive team Alador Bereketab explained how the BBA works to address challenges faced by black BHSc students and create meaningful change to make the program more inclusive. 

“With every BBA student, there is a reason why they are in the BHsc program. We’re planning these events because as BHsc students we have a platform to do something… we recognize this privilege of having funding and resources so we want to use what we have and bring opportunities to other groups,” said Bereketab. 

The BBA has conducted much outreach and hosted many events such as a high school information night, a BBA study night, and a Tote and Toast evening, all to break down barriers for black students and improve transparency for black students to realize different health care opportunities.  

To commemorate the end of Black History Month, the BBA hosted a Black Health Conference on Feb. 29. This is the second conference of its kind hosted by the BBA and allows current black students to network with black McMaster alumni and other black healthcare professionals.  

Bereketab showed great excitement prior to the event, anticipating 60 students to attend. 

“The BBA team is an incredible group of students that have created a community that is unique to a lot of different spaces. Bringing events like the Black Health Conference is giving students beyond the BBA exec team that experience and sense of community and connections with other students and alumni who went through similar experiences.” said Bereketab.  

The first keynote speaker was Begna Dugassa, an established public health nutritionist, researcher and author. Dugassa shared how his experiences in Ethiopia and education in the USSR have led to his current work in public health. 

Dugassa works to understand how the history of colonialism and inequities influence health in marginalized groups. He has made aware of this career opportunity that allows black BHsc students to take their experiences and integrate it into health care and social justice. 

Following Dugassa, the BBA introduced Ida-Maisie Famiyeh, a first year medical student at University of Toronto. Famiyeh spoke on the challenges she faces as a mother and how turning to faith during her struggles helped her develop the resilience to pursue medicine.  

Famiyeh shared how becoming a mom drove her to become a strong advocate for health care, especially for loved ones.  

Famiyeh encouraged students wishing to pursue medicine to turn all experiences including struggles into motivation to continue their undergraduate journey and to become better physicians. 

The final guest speaker was Dr Semir Bulle, a current psychiatry resident at the University of Toronto and the former co-president of the Black Medical Students’ Association.  

 Dr. Bulle specifically spoke about his advocacy for zero-gun violence in Toronto. He shared stories of black individuals who are victims of gun violence and did not receive justice. Dr. Bulle’s take home message to students was to seek outreach opportunities to promote better education and resource accessibility. 

The conference concluded with a networking event that allowed black students to connect with the speakers as well as nine black BHsc alumni. The alumni provided insight on how they dealt with challenges in their careers and how they overcame them. This period provided current black Bhsc students to connect with alumni and healthcare professionals that have similar experiences. 

Marie-Claire Kapesa, a student who attended the conference, shared how the conference impacted her.   

As an ex-member of the BBA, Kapesa also praised the current BBA team. 

“It makes me emotional seeing the black health science students and the community they were able to build. I didn’t have that in my first year and it’s heartwarming to see the friendships and support that they have been able to give each other throughout and the legacy they have created.” said Kapesa.  

More information about the BBA can be found on the BHSc Program’s website. Their instagram also posts information about any upcoming events.  


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