Zanana Akande has worked towards social justice by addressing education, communications and the media, feminism, race relations and social change. She has worked as a teacher, consultant and administrator in the public education system, and a lecturer at the university level. She continues to speak on issues of effective communication, social change, community development and diversity—a topic she has presented locally and abroad. Ms Akande has worked in the media with MTV, and was a co-founder of Tiger Lily, a magazine giving voice to the perspectives of women of colour. One of a partnership of five to win the license for a radio station in 2000, Ms Akande served as a director of Milestone Media Inc.
Elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1990, she was appointed Minister of Community and Social Services, thus becoming the first Black woman to hold a cabinet position in Canada. During her term in office she was a determined advocate for Employment Equity. She also served as Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier where was responsible for the implementation of “Jobs Ontario Youth”, providing thousands of jobs to youth across Ontario for four consecutive summers.
A community advocate, Ms Akande has served on the boards of many organizations, including the Elizabeth Fry Society, the YWCA of Toronto, the United Way of Greater Toronto, the Family Services Association, the Toronto Community Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Fund and Legacy Board, and as Governor of Centennial College, and President of Harbourfront Centre. During her term as president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, she co-chaired the Safe and Compassionate Schools Committee of the Toronto District School Board, examining the implementation of the Safe Schools legislation. Currently, she chairs the Board of the Black Legal Action Clinic (BLAC).
Zanana Akande has received numerous awards recognizing her commitment to education, equity and social justice, including the African Canadian Achievement Award for Education, and the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Arbor Award from the University of Toronto, the Human Rights Award from the Centennial Foundation, the Dr. Daniel G. Hill Award for Community Service from the Ontario Black History Society, the Constance C. Hamilton Award from the City of Toronto, and the Luminary Award from the University of the West Indies. In 2018 she was selected as a Women of Distinction by the YWCA, and was presented with the Key to the City by Mayor Tory.