Came to Canada from Ghana in 1979 to study George Sefa Dei didn't know what it felt like to be part of an ethnic minority, until he arrived in Canada.
Dei came here in 1979 from his native Ghana to pursue a postgraduate education. It was then when racism issues — blacks being shot by police, minority students being alienated in schools — appeared on Dei's radar screen for the first time.
When Dei first came to Canada to study sociology and anthropology at Hamilton's McMaster University, he never planned to spend the rest of his life here. But the issues over racial relations, power struggle and social inequity fascinated him.
Dei, 49, knows whining isn't going to solve the problems. Instead, he looks for solutions.
"As immigrants, we are often told to be grateful to this country. Of course, we are," said Dei, a professor with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at University of Toronto since 1991. "But I believe our gratitude does not mean becoming quiet. Anytime we perceive injustice, we must speak up against it."
Dei is a prolific researcher and writer on anti-racism topics, and his papers have been translated into numerous languages. His research, ranging from the dropout rate of minority students to training teachers to deal with students from marginalized groups, promotes an inclusive learning environment.
Dei, who has been named a New Pioneer winner for his advocacy work, recalled meeting a Canadian parent at a conference, who kept complaining about immigrant students clinging to their cultures.
"My quick response was, `We are here, so let's deal with it,'" he said. "Our Canadian community is a community of differences, and we must act in ways that recognize and value each of us as essential parts of the Canadian identity, collective history and sense of purpose."
Dei, married with a son and two stepsons, noted that many newcomers face a tough time settling down in Canada, and everyone is responsible for immigrants' well-being.
"Racism, like sexism, classism, homophobia ... cannot be wished away. It must be confronted and dealt with, whether it's in schools, courts, justice system or our police force," he said.
"Many are hurting in our communities for lack of employment and education. There is a collective responsibility here."
Sitting by a slew of civic awards lining his office, Dei said what most satisfies him is to act as a mentor to students from disadvantaged communities
"In Africa, the elders would give the young ones guidance to live their lives. We don't live with our elders in Canada, but I do feel like an elder to these youth. It feels good."