Lesa Francis, Interim Executive Director
Lesa Francis holds a Law Clerk Diploma from Centennial College and a Diploma (Hons.) in Business Administration from the Toronto School of Business. Lesa has worked as a Law Clerk for personal injury, family law and estate law firms in Toronto and as a Provincial Program Coordinator and Administrator for multiple specialty legal clinics in Ontario.
For over ten years, Lesa has also operated her own business as a Grant Writer and Consultant, specializing in acquiring diverse funding for local and international artists, as well as dozens of grassroots, medium sized and national non-profit organizations.
Working at BLAC fulfills Lesa’s combined passion of working with and within her community to develop access to justice and combat systemic anti-Black racism.
Nana Yanful, Legal Director (On Leave)
Nana is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law. During law school, Nana received various awards including the Honourable Julius Alexander Isaac Scholarship, the Stitt Feld Handy Social Justice Fellowship, and the Lerners Cup Finalist & Top Oralist award. Nana completed her articles at the Superior Court of Justice as a Judicial Law Clerk and was called to the Bar in 2014. Nana practiced criminal defence law at Simcoe Chambers in Toronto, where she appeared before all levels of court in Ontario. Her writing on equity, policing and the trust-deficit has appeared in the anthology, Subdivided: City-Building in an Age of Hyper-Diversity, For The Defence, Spacing Magazine and elsewhere.
Nana is deeply committed to community and legal work related to anti-Black racism, human rights, and anti-discrimination. For many years she has worked to build equitable and inclusive spaces in education, health care, and in community and non-profit organizations. Most recently, Nana worked as a Human Rights & Health Equity Specialist at Sinai Health System and as a Knowledge Translation Specialist for the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health. Nana is a board member of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre.
Fareeda Adam, Staff Lawyer
Fareeda Adam is a graduate of McMaster University and the University of Ottawa – Faculty of Law.
At McMaster University, Fareeda completed her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Women’s Studies, with a minor in Indigenous Studies. Fareeda was the President of the McMaster Debating Society, was the recipient of the Borden Ladner Gervais LLP Scholarship and the Canadian Federation of University Women (Hamilton) Memorial Prize. During law school, Fareeda was involved with the Black Law Students’ Association – Ottawa Chapter as Co-President and mentor. Fareeda along with her partner, competed and won the Julius Alexander Isaac Diversity Moot and Fareeda was awarded best oralist.
After graduating law school, Fareeda articled at a criminal defence law firm. Fareeda continued to work in this field after being called to the bar of Ontario in 2015. She has worked for Legal Aid Ontario in various capacities, dealing with low-income Ontarians in both the family and criminal law context. Fareeda has developed a particular interest in youth criminal justice, police accountability and child protection law.
Since beginning her legal career, Fareeda has learned of the importance of naming anti-Black racism and using a critical race lens to understand the interactions Black people have with legal institutions.
Patricia Suleiman, Staff Lawyer
Patricia graduated from the University of Montana School of Law in 2014, and received her Juris Doctorate. Patricia also graduated from the University of Toronto Internationally Trained Lawyers Program in 2016. She received her National Committee of Accreditation Certificate of Qualification, and was called to the Ontario Bar. During her time in law school Patricia was a clinical student at the In House Criminal Defense Clinic, where she focused on providing representation to clients facing serious misdemeanor charges, and on occasion uncomplicated felonies.
After law school she worked as an Associate at a general litigation firm focusing on criminal defense and estate planning. Upon her return to Canada, Patricia was a student intern with Legal Aid Ontario Duty Counsel at the John Sopinka Courthouse (criminal court). She later completed her articles of clerkship at South Etobicoke Community Legal Services. She later worked for a wealth management firm providing recommendations in the business process of compliance by drafting regulatory, and risk oriented policies and procedures. Patricia currently focuses on the following areas of law: employment, human rights, education, and housing. Patricia regularly conducts public legal education sessions and trainings. She has a strong focus on ensuring members of our diverse Black community have access to legal information and support. Patricia is proud to be a Mentor in Blazing Trails Mentorship Program for 2020/2021.
On a different note, Patricia enjoys watching, coaching, and playing her favourite sport soccer
Mewded Mengesha, Researcher/Staff Lawyer
Mewded is an immigrant from Ethiopia. He holds a Master’s of Law Degree from Lund University, Sweden, where he studied International Human Rights Law. He also received a Bachelor’s of Law Degree and worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for few years in Ethiopia.
In Canada, Mewded continued pursuing his long-cherished dream of becoming a lawyer and received a Master’s of Law Degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. After successfully completing the accreditation process for foreign trained lawyers in Canada, as well as the lawyer licensing process, Mewded was called to the Bar of Ontario in 2020. Prior to joining BLAC, Mewded was an articling student at Paul VanderVennen Law Office where he assisted clients with all aspects of Canadian immigration and refugee law matters.
Mewded is passionate about work related to anti-Black racism, human rights, and refugee rights.
Piera Savage, Staff Lawyer
Piera Savage is a graduate of Concordia University and Osgoode Hall Law School.
She began working in the clinic system prior to her call to the bar in 2016, starting at Parkdale Community Legal Services as a summer student in the Social Assistance Violence and Health division, and then expanding her practice to housing, immigration and employment law during her time as an articling student. During her time at Parkdale, she organized and fought for tenant rights’ in the push against neighbourhood gentrification.
Piera then worked at West Scarborough Community Legal Services for four years with a focus on Housing, Social Assistance and, most recently, immigration law. She regularly represents low income individuals at Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board and Social Benefits Tribunal. She approaches her work from an anti-racist, anti-oppressive and trauma informed lens. Piera is excited to join BLAC and to further the fight towards a more equitable justice system.
Prior to law school, Piera completed a BFA at Concordia University in Montreal. Following that, she moved to Japan where she fostered a joy for cherry blossoms while teaching English and working as a singer. She still performs occasionally in Toronto, but her main stage is the kitchen where she sings while making dinner.
Khaldah Salih, Community Legal Worker
Khaldah Salih holds a Bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Political Science and International Development, and a Master’s degree from the University of British Columbia in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice.
As an independent researcher, Khaldah has explored issues of surveillance and state violence as related to activism. She has worked in several humanitarian and development organizations in Khartoum, Sudan, including the UN Refugee Agency where she was a caseworker with refugees and asylum seekers.
Most recently, Khaldah was a Project Coordinator at the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA), working on policy and coordinating youth programming.
Khaldah is motivated to further understand and combat anti-Black racism within Ontario and across borders, and is excited to be a part of the BLAC team and be able to serve her community.
Sade Makinde, Community Legal Worker
Sade is committed to furthering her goal of curtailing systemic discrimination for marginalized populations— specifically anti-Black individual and systemic racism, through awareness and advocacy.
Sade has worked as organizer and workshop director for several conferences and keynote speaker functions across North America, including Power Networking Conference, and the Toronto Women’s Expo.
Most recently, Sade worked as an Administrative Assistant for an advocacy-based non-profit law firm in Toronto, where she provided research, litigation, and administrative support. Sade has taken part in a number of advocacy efforts, including an array of research focus groups, public legal education workshops, and events such as the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network annual “Chill and Chat”, a yearly Caribbean fundraiser.
Sade holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law and Legal Studies from Carleton University, with a minor in Communications Studies. Following university, throughout her career as well as in her spare time, she loves to participate and educate herself on matters pertaining to human rights.
Sade is honoured to join the team of professionals at BLAC.
Melissa Azore, Intake Coordinator
Melissa has worked for nearly two decades providing administrative support to high-functioning teams in organizations and multiple sectors in Toronto. For the past several years, she has worked in disability justice and is excited to bring this experience to BLAC.
In her off time, Melissa can be found writing music and performing as a trained and talented vocalist. She is also a trained Doula, with a focus on supporting Black birthers. She is deeply passionate about matters of social justice, particularly those related to misogynoir.
Melissa is grateful for the opportunity to work for BLAC, where her lens on racial justice, disability justice and other forms of oppression can be put to good use.
Ruth Goba, Former Executive Director
Ruth graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2000 and was called to the Bar in 2002. After law school, Ruth worked abroad for an international NGO that focused on economic and social rights and for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Housing. She later completed her articles of clerkship at ARCH Disability Law Centre. She worked in private practice as a human rights lawyer and then moved to the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, where she was Executive Director from 2007 to 2009.
Ruth was a Commissioner with the Ontario Human Rights Commission for 11 years, and in February 2015 was named Interim Chief Commissioner. In 2016, she was cross-appointed to the board of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and in 2017 was appointed as a mediator and adjudicator with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
Ruth has taught at Ryerson University, was on the legal committee of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), and the board of the National Association of Women and the Law. She was also appointed to the Provincial/Territorial Expert Panel on Physician-Assisted Dying. Her work has taken her to India, Kenya, and Geneva. She and her husband live in Toronto with their three young daughters.
Jody Yaa Dunn, Provincial Anti-Black Racism & Justice Programs Manager
Jody Yaa Dunn is a culturally responsive and community orientated social service professional, with a wealth of experience in team management and developing front-line program models from a youth centred lens. She has held positions in youth justice, early childhood and educational environments, with extensive experience in Afrocentric program design, community engagement, social justice, and client-led interventions.
Her professional knowledge of child and youth development combined with her life experiences help her to personally relate to some of the challenges and barriers that Black youth & families often experience within the justice and education systems. Understanding the importance of culturally reflective services, she strives to ensure engagement and program models are meaningful and engaging while combating anti-Black racism within our communities to create systemic change.
Prior to her current position with BLAC, Jody Yaa Dunn was the Justice Program Manager at Peacebuilders Canada, a youth justice organization focused on providing Restorative Justice support to youth experiencing on-conflict with the law. Jody also was the Program Director of a organization that provided reintegration support to youth of African descent in Toronto. In her spare time, Jody has sat on various Boards, most recently including Harriet Tubman Community Organization and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto Advisory Group for Services to African Descent Families. On weekends, she spends time with her children, taking them to activities such as basketball and African drum & dance class, and spending quality time with friends.
Tiffany Taylor, Provincial Anti-Black Racism Community Engagement Coordinator
Tiffany has a BA (hons.) in Law and Society as well as Human Rights and Equity Studies from York University, along with a graduate certificate in Youth Justice and Interventions from Durham College. She has a wide range of professional and volunteer experience as a child and youth worker, including previous positions with Children and Family Support Services, Associated Youth Services of Peel, Youth at Risk Development Program with John Howard Society of Hamilton, and more recently, Peacebuilders Canada, where she provided Restorative Justice programming for youth going through the court system, and youth in Toronto District School Board high schools.
Tiffany is a passionate advocate for social justice and advancing the rights of those most vulnerable in our communities. From her studies and direct front-line experience working with Black children, youth, and families, she is committed to advocating for change in our justice and education system and building equitable and inclusive spaces for children and youth to reach their full potential. She has direct experience working within youth courts and school systems, where she has collaborated with justice professionals and school administration in recognizing the impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on the success of Black youth, and confronting racism and discrimination, and the need for culturally responsive services in our communities.
Tiffany has provided Restorative Justice circle training and presentations to students at Osgoode Hall Law School, Humber College ADR program, and Ryerson University’s Social Work/Criminology program. She has also served as an organizational representative at the FOCUS Table (Furthering Our Community by Uniting Services), SPIDER (Specialized Program for Inter-Divisional Enhanced Responsiveness to Vulnerability), and YJO (Youth Justice Ontario).
Tiffany is excited to be a part of the BLAC team and is motivated to do further research and deepen her understanding of the disparities and challenges faced by racialized minorities. During her free time, she likes to visit her favorite bookstores, as she is an avid reader, and enjoys the calmness that reading brings.