Violet King Engaged Scholar Award

Violet King Engaged Scholar Award

A scholarship created to recognize the unique barriers, challenges, victories, and lived experiences of Black, racialized and Indigenous students at the University of Calgary

About The Violet King Engaged Scholar Award

The Violet King Engaged Scholar Award recognizes talented students with financial needs. Violet King was an exemplary student from a working-class background who paid for her education through loans and by teaching classical and jazz piano lessons. Her story exemplifies the reality of so many talented students who face barriers to and success within the university because of income limited access to scholarships, fellowships, and awards. This award recognizes and seeks to limit financial barriers that shape access and opportunity structures. It aims to facilitate access and embed equity, diversity, and inclusion in efforts to advance and enhance the student experience for those from historically underrepresented communities. The barriers to flourishing that are faced by Black, racialized, and Indigenous students informed the creation of the Award both to recognize talent and to enhance the affordability and accessibility of education for such students at the University of Calgary.

  • The Award recognizes and celebrates underrepresented students' talents, contributions and needs at the University of Calgary.
  • The Award recognizes the socioeconomic challenges underrepresented students face.
  • The Award contributes to efforts to level the playing field by financially supporting students to succeed at the university.

The SU, the OEDI and the university promote accessibility, equity, diversity, and inclusivity by offering various supports to members of equity-deserving groups.

Violet King in white ball gown (black and white image)

Violet King was a guest speaker at the Beta Sigma Phi pledge banquet in November 1955.

courtesy Glenbow Archives/NA-5600-7297a

About Violet King (1929-1982)

The Violet King Engaged Scholar Award is named after Violet King, Alberta’s and Canada’s first Black woman lawyer. King was an exemplar of an engaged scholar, as an inspired student leader in high school, on campus at the University of Alberta, where she completed a BA in History in 1952 and an LLB in 1953, becoming the first Black person in the province to graduate with a law degree. After articling with the Calgary law firm of Edward J. McCormick, Q.C., King was called to the Alberta Bar on June 2, 1954, becoming the first Black person in Alberta, and the first Black woman in Canada, to become a lawyer.

King was a trailblazer. She was born in Calgary on October 18, 1929 and raised in the Hillhurst-Sunnyside community. As a student leader, she was an exemplar of the academically, socially, and community-engaged scholar in high school, and this continued into her university studies. King’s trailblazing accomplishments and student engagement were widely recognized by Alberta newspapers when she was called to the Alberta Bar. In one editorial, “A Dauntless Young Woman,” The Albertan reported the following:

“History of a constructive kind was made in Calgary last week when Miss Violet King, a young colored woman, was admitted to the bar of this province. Miss King, a native of Calgary, had a brilliant record in the city schools and at the University of Alberta. She has always fitted one hundred percent into social, student and community affairs. She has, in fact, usually been a leader. In choosing a career, she wasn’t daunted by the scarcity of either people of her color or women of any race in the legal profession.

Her admission to the Alberta bar is a tribute to the profession, to her race, to her teachers and professors, to those who have sponsored and assisted her, to her parents—and of course, to herself.” (The Albertan, June 8, 1954).

People told me it wasn’t a good idea for a girl to be a lawyer, particularly a coloured girl, so I went ahead.

Violet King, May 5, 1956

Violet King served as the president of the Grade 12 Girls’ Association and was active in the Hi-Y club, an affiliate of the YWCA, which served as a network for future volunteer leaders at Crescent Heights School in the Hillhurst-Sunnyside community in Calgary. In 1946 and 1947, Violet King was named on the Hi-Y honour roll for her extracurricular volunteer activities. This student leadership and engagement continued at the University of Alberta, where the women students of her generation were encouraged by Maimie Simpson, the Dean of Women, to think of engagement and volunteerism as “a philosophy of living, where you give of yourself, where you can give the gift of appreciation.” (M. Simpson, Taking a Backward Look: Memoirs of a Dean of Women. Accession 69-55, U of Alberta Archives, 1968: 15).

At university, King was involved in numerous student groups, including the Blue Stocking Society, which included young women students who were interested in gender equality, history, and intellectual and public affairs.  Some of King’s student engagement activities included service on, for example:

  • Golden Key Society
  • Arts and Science Club (served as Secretary)
  • Class Historian (selected by peers, 1951-1952)
  • Vice President of Students' Union
  • National Federation of Canadian University Students (NFCUS) (selected by SU)

International Student Services Conference (served as Alberta representative to meetings at McMaster in 1952)

  • Pembina House Committee
  • Students' Union Building’s Housing Committee
  • Disciplinary Committee

In 1952 King was one of four student leaders who was recognized with an Executive “A” gold ring at Colour Night for her outstanding contributions to student life. The other three recipients to be honoured alongside King were Peter Lougheed, Ivan Head, and Garth Fryett  (“Colour Night Next Tuesday: Twelve to Receive Rings,” The Gateway (March 14, 1952: 1).


Violet King Scholarship

Required criteria

Student type: BIPOC student Citizenship/residency: Any Faculty: Any Year entering: 2nd, 3rd or 4th

graphic design of a wallet

Award value

$5,000 each Number of awards: Four (4)

Award information

Award information

Type of award: Scholarship Internal/external/government: Internal

Joining us at the ceremony will be Violet King’s only daughter, Ms. Jo-Anne Henry along with Jon Cornish, Chancellor, to announce the award recipients. The ceremony will be hosted by Dr. Malinda Smith, PhD, Vice-Provost (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) and Associate Vice-President Research (EDI).  A blessing will be offered from Elder Colleen Sitting Eagle. 

Ms. Jo-Anne Henry will also deliver a keynote speech about her mother following the awards ceremony.

Ms. Jo-Anne Henry, Violet King’s daughter, Director of LEAD Strategic Impact, National League of Cities | Washington, D.C.

Ms. Jo-Anne Henry, Violet King’s daughter, Director of LEAD Strategic Impact, National League of Cities | Washington, D.C.

Jo-Anne Henry

Ms. Jo-Anne Henry is the daughter of Violent King Henry and Godfrey Henry, who were both attorneys and spectacular parents. Ms. Henry is currently the Director of LEAD Strategic Impact at the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C.. Previously she has been in leadership positions in: District of Columbia Public Schools; DC’s Child Welfare system; the state of Georgia’s Child Welfare system; Director of a community-based child abuse prevention strategy called “Community Partnerships for Protecting Children”; and one of the 1st lawyers at an environmental justice pro bono law organization called “Alternatives for Community & Environment” (ACE). 

Ms. Henry received her J.D. degree from University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law; and her M.A. from Georgetown University’s School of Business. She currently resides in Washington DC with her teacher husband and their teen daughter, who wants to be a child psychologist when she gets older. 

Ms. Henry is thrilled with the ways her mother Violet has been and continues to be honoured; how her legacy still inspires; and how Violet’s historic trailblazing has been recognized.

Jon Cornish, Chancellor

Community leader and Canadian Football Hall of Famer Jon Cornish was elected the 15th chancellor of the University of Calgary, effective July 1, 2022. Cornish is most known for their legendary nine years as a member of the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League where they were selected as the top Canadian player for three years consecutively, Most Outstanding Player in 2013, only the second football player to win the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete, and led their team to two Grey Cup championships. In recognition of their Kansas University football career, where they still hold numerous records, the Jon Cornish Trophy is awarded annually to the best Canadian NCAA Football player. 

During and after their football career, Cornish spent the last nine years in various wealth management roles, working as a consultant and was a part of a top-ranked private investment counsel wealth team. They are now an investment advisor and team lead at RBC Dominion Securities, where they are responsible for building relationships, providing wealth management guidance, and holistic, goal-oriented financial planning so their clients can realize their best lives. 

Cornish works with various non-profits and charities around Calgary, including many events as an emcee for the Alberta Children's Hospital, working directly with at-risk youth for Wood's Homes, and at the Calgary Foundation, where they serve on the Doc Seaman Hockey Fund. They also continue to work with the Calgary Stampeders as gameday ambassador. 

Cornish is president emeritus and founder of the Calgary Black Chambers, a non-profit working to make Calgary the best place to live and work for BIPOC people. The Calgary Black Chambers provided over $120,000 in scholarships to help university students and supported hundreds high school students with skill training to aid in their careers and life journeys over the last three years.

Vice Provost (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) and Associate Vice-President Research (EDI)

Dr. Malinda Smith is the inaugural Vice Provost and Associate Vice President of Research (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) and a full professor of political science at the University of Calgary. Prior to joining UCalgary, she was a full professor of political science at the University of Alberta, where she held various roles, including Provost Fellow (EDI Policy) in the Office of the Provost and Associate Chair (Graduate Studies) in the Department of Political Science.

Dr. Smith worked to advance an equitable and inclusive higher education for over 30 years. This work includes initiatives to create institutional cultures that build trust and support disaggregated EDI data, anti-racism, equity and human rights accountability, and initiatives to embed equitable and inclusive principles and practices in hiring and retention, research, and teaching and  learning. She has has served on numerous higher education governance committees, including Vice President (Equity Issues) for the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and Chair of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion External Review Committee for the Canada Research Chairs. Currently, she serves on SSHRC Governing Council and Executive; as Vice Chair of the Inter-Institutional Advisory Committee for the Scarborough Charter, on Statistics Canada’s Immigration and Ethnocultural Statistics Advisory Committee; and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s External EDI Advisory Board.

Dr. Smith is the coauthor, editor, or coeditor of 8 books, numerous articles, book chapters and reports and has given dozens of invited keynotes and public lectures in the areas of equity, diversity, human rights, and decolonization in higher education, African political economy, and international relations. Dr. Smith is the coauthor of The Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities (2017); coeditor of Critical Concepts: An Introduction to Politics (OUP 2023); the Nuances of Blackness in the Canadian Academy (UofT Press, 2022); States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century (BTL 2010). and three books on Africa, including Securing Africa: Post-9/11 Discourses on Terrorism (2010).

Dr. Smith is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including Calgary Black Chambers’ Lifetime Achievement Award (2023), an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Simon Fraser University (2021), Compelling Calgarians (2021), the International Studies Association’s  Women’s Caucus’s Susan S. Northcutt Award (2020), 100 Accomplished Black Women Honouree (2020), the ISA-Canada Distinguished Scholar Award (2018-19), P.E. Trudeau Foundation Fellow (2018), the HSBC Community Contributor of the Year Award (2016); and the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ Equity Award  (2015).

Elder Colleen Sitting Eagle

Oki Niistowoak Siipiyanatohkomiaaki.

Elder Colleen Sitting Eagle has worked with young people all their working years in many different but similar aspects. From being a Youth Camp Coordinator,Youth Prevention Juvenile Counsellor, Crime prevention with Gleichen R.C.M.P. and Blackfoot Tribal Police, Researcher for Siksika Culture and Heritage to being a Language Teacher/Liaison for Siksika Schools.

Colleen learned her Siksika history from her late parents and the honour of working with knowledgeable elders. She was one of the first groups from Siksika to be integrated to start her schooling in Strathmore, AB. She previously attended and continues to take courses from the University of Calgary.

She is gifted with two beautiful children with loosing her son in 2022. She has six grandchildren ranging from 7-21 years old.

2023 Violet King Engaged Scholar Award Recipients

Yvette Ysabel Yao

Yvette Ysabel Yao

Yvette Ysabel Yao is a medical student at the Cumming School of Medicine. She is a magna cum laude graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, and received her bachelor's degrees in Molecular & Cell Biology (Honors) and Public Health (Honors). Growing up in the Philippines, Yvette witnessed the harsh realities of living in a medically underserved community. These experiences compelled her to be the first in her family to pursue a career in medicine, focusing on addressing the healthcare gaps prevalent in underserved communities. Having experienced the challenges of adjusting to new cultures and healthcare systems, she has taken on diverse roles to contribute to the fields of global and newcomer health.

At UC Berkeley, Yvette volunteered as a Tagalog health interpreter and spearheaded the introduction of preventative health curriculums to vulnerable populations in the Philippines through the “Hygiene Heroes” group. As a medical student, she co-founded the Calgary Asian Medical Students Association to advocate for newcomer health. She also serves as a National Officer of Research Exchange for the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. She is also the Federation of Medical Women of Canada representative for her class and is a Neurology System Editor for the Calgary Guide

Victory Abraham

Victory Abraham

Victory Abraham is an Ethiopian and Eritrean fourth-year Law and Society student at the University of Calgary. She is also obtaining a Mental Well-being and Resilience certificate. Victory plans to become a Lawyer, further exploring her passion for criminal justice, social justice and advocacy, and race-based data. 

Victory maintains secure relationships in all her community involvements to see Calgary's communities succeed. She aims to elevate university students through her role as the Co-President of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Students Association. Victory demonstrates leadership in her work and volunteering, including tutoring, program planning and facilitating, and mentoring Black youth and children in Calgary. Her exceptional experience, motivation, and tenacity stem from her immigration story and being the first in her family to pursue law. 

Victory is honoured and inspired to receive this scholarship, as Violet King is an exceptional and motivating figure. With this award, Victory will continue her community and academic commitments.

Misgana Abraha

Misgana Abraha

Misgana is a first-generation post-secondary student whose journey from war-torn Sudan to Canada exemplifies resilience and determination. Her unwavering passion for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion has been the driving force behind her academic and professional career. As a volunteer mentor with the Eritrean Canadian Community Association, Misgana mentored several Eritrean high school students who were newcomers to Canada.

During the pandemic, she provided valuable translation services in English, Arabic, and Tigrinya to non-English speaking Eritrean women seeking support from the Calgary Immigration Women's Association. Misgana recently received the prestigious PURE award and is currently halfway through a 16-week summer work studentship.

She is also currently working under the neurologist Dr. Morris Scantelbury in the field of pediatric epilepsy at the Heritage Medical Research Building. The research involves examining the underlying mechanisms of infantile spasms. With her tireless efforts and commitment to making a meaningful difference, she aspires to contribute to the growing body of knowledge and bring about tangible improvements in the lives of those living with infantile spasms.

Her commitment to promoting equity and inclusion has also led her to pursue academic research alongside Canada Research Chair Dr. Jennifer Adams, where she is working to reduce barriers for Black students pursuing careers in STEM-related fields. Misgana aspires to become a teacher following graduation from UCalgary.

Pelumi Adeosun

Pelumi Adeosun

Pelumi Adeosun is a Law & Society Co-op student at the University of Calgary. She has a passion for advocacy and inclusion for Black immigrants and women, refined through internships, research, and service projects throughout her undergraduate career. Alongside her strong academic record exists an active involvement in student leadership.

At UCalgary, Pelumi actively cultivates an environment of belonging on campus through her extra-curricular involvement. She acted as the Vice-President of the Nigerian Students’ Association this past academic year and has undertaken numerous peer mentorship roles as a student in the Scholars Academy Program.

Her campus and community involvement have earned her several prestigious awards, including the Government of Alberta’s Lois Hole Humanities & Social Sciences Scholarship in 2021 and the Laurence Decore Award for Student Leadership for two consecutive years.

This summer, she will work with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP as an Avenue Undergraduate Legal Intern in their Calgary office. Looking towards the future, after graduating from law school, she intends to use her legal expertise to continue supporting underserved communities.

Senait Yohannes

Senait Yohannes

Senait Berhane Yohannes is a born and raised Calgarian of Eritrean descent. She possesses an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from Mount Royal University and is entering her final year of law school. Before beginning her post-secondary studies, she spent many years working in remote oil and gas locations in Northern Alberta and British Columbia.  

As an Executive member of the UCalgary Black Law Students Association, first as VP of Administration and as the current Co-President, she leads a growing community of Black Law Students, bringing networking opportunities, mentorship, grants, and events to its members.  

Senait works for Calgary Transit and is also working a summer term at Stikeman Elliot LLP, where she has officially accepted an articling offer. She is a recipient of the Alberta Provincial Judges Association Chief Judge Gail Vickery Award. She is this year’s recipient of “The Foundation Scholarship” and the “Frances Hartogh Diversity Outreach Scholarship” from the Foundation for Natural Resources and Energy Law. Senait will complete her Fall Law School Fall semester in Oslo, Norway.  

Tolu Adewole

Tolu Adewole

Tolu Adewole possesses a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is a 4th year Nursing student with a passion for social justice and working with underrepresented populations. Having lived in Canada and Nigeria highlighted, Tolu has become inspired to dismantle and influence change in healthcare systems that sustain health inequities.

As a Nursing Student, she has actively engaged in research activities related to nursing and healthcare. Tolu is currently participating in a research project that helps nurses to practice their skills in verbally de-escalating agitated patients. She is also working on a project to develop a guide and best practices in aiding nurses to find and feel veins in patients with different skin tones and colours.

Tolu’s goal is to positively impact the lives of others and contribute to equitable healthcare through research, innovation and advocacy. She is eager to lend her talent and knowledge in the future, working globally to change health outcomes and inequities through resourcing allocation, health programming and policy and working with governments to build comprehensive primary healthcare settings in areas lacking resources and infrastructure.


Jo-Anne Henry and UCalgary Law Dean Ian Holloway pose with the new portrait of Violet King Henry.

Jo-Anne Henry and UCalgary Law Dean Ian Holloway pose with the new portrait of Violet King Henry.

Adrian Shellard

Ground-breaking Calgarian earns permanent home at law school

By - Ali Abel, Faculty of Law | UToday


She has become a symbol of resiliency and determination for Black law students across Canada. She was the only woman in her graduating class at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law, the first Black person admitted to the Alberta Bar, and Canada’s first Black female lawyer. Violet King Henry was born and raised in Calgary, and while a student at Crescent Heights High School, declared that she would become a criminal lawyer.  

To honour her courage and her contributions to the community and the legal profession, and to continue to inspire all law students who see it, a portrait of King Henry was unveiled in UCalgary Law's largest classroom on Thursday, March 30.  

Portrait of Violet King Henry unveiled on March 30

Portrait of Violet King Henry unveiled on March 30, 2023 in the Faculty of Law

Jo-Anne Henry and Dr. Malinda Smith

Jo-Anne Henry and Dr. Malinda Smith

Ron Cornish

Canadian Football League Hall of Famer Jon Cornish is Canada's youngest university Chancellor

Interview with Ron Cornish, UCalgary | RON FANFAIR
March 2, 2023


In the next four years, he will chair the senate, sit on the Board of Governors and preside over degree-conferring ceremonies at convocation.

Black History Month

Looking to the past to build a more equitable and inclusive present during Black History Month

Author - Collene Ferguson, UCalgary | UToday
February 2, 2023


Lots to learn from the stories of struggle, courage and triumph of Black Canadians

Annie Saunders

Significance of Black History Month

Author - Dr. Malinda Smith, UCalgary | web

Significance of Black History Month

There is power in story and danger in the single story. That is why Black History Month is so important. We all need to understand the diversity and complexity of the Black historical experience here in Canada.

Heritage Calgary Plaque Recognizes Residence of Violet King

Heritage Calgary Plaque Recognizes Residence of Violet King

Author - Heritage Calgary
February 28, 2022

Heritage Calgary

The residence is nationally significant as the home of the King family, including siblings Violet King and Theodore King, who are recognized for their work to advance racial equality in Alberta and are a significant part of Alberta’s civil rights history.

Violet King

Edmonton's Federal Building public square named after a Black pioneer

Author - Katrine Deniset | ICI Alberta
February 27, 2021

ICI Alberta

From Calgary, Violet King was the first Black woman to practise law in the country.

King family

Plaza renamed to honour trailblazing Black Calgarian

Author - Helen Pike | CBC News
February 26, 2021

CBC News

The Federal Building plaza, with views of the Alberta Legislature, has a new name: the Violet King Henry Plaza.


Dr. Malinda Smith

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion are at the core of Dr. Malinda Smith's research

Interview with Dr. Malinda Smith, UCalgary | RON FANFAIR
October 29, 2020


As the first person of colour to serve on the executive of the Federation for the Humanities & Social Sciences, Smith – as Vice-President Equity – led ‘Equity Matters’ on the Ideas-Idees blog and worked to embed EDI in Congress programming.

George Bonga

Black Albertans You Should Know

Author - Dr. Malinda Smith, UCalgary | webpage

Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Trailblazing Black Albertans who, too often, are hidden in provincial and Canadian narratives. These stories, as the achievements of these Black Albertans, act as a corrective to misconceptions of Black Albertans as newcomers and the deficit narratives that function to limit Black aspirations and achievements.

Sophia B. Jones

Beyond a Single Story: Black Lives and Hidden Figures in the Canadian Academy

Author - Dr. Malinda Smith, UCalgary | Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
February 18, 2020

Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Three counter-narratives of trailblazing Black women who resolutely defied social barriers pushed back against the weight of stereotypes and pursued their higher education aspirations on the Indigenous territories that we now know as Canada. 

Virnetta Nelson

Making black history in Alberta visible

Author - UAlberta | Medium
February 8, 2017


The history of black people in Alberta remains obscured by the “tyranny of homogenization.”

SU Quality Money program

Quality Money is an excellent example of collaboration between your SU, the university, and the student body. The Quality Money proposal process allows the SU to determine where students feel money should be invested on campus. Furthermore, thanks to feedback and proposals received through the Quality Money program, the SU is better able to inform the university about the priorities and concerns of students. Your SU uses feedback from students in determining where to invest Quality Money each year.