New foundation honours legacy of young community leader in Ottawa

·3 min read
A new memorial foundation has been created to honour the memory of social justice advocate Abel Mengistab, who died in June 2020. (submitted by Mengistab Tsegaye  - image credit)
A new memorial foundation has been created to honour the memory of social justice advocate Abel Mengistab, who died in June 2020. (submitted by Mengistab Tsegaye - image credit)

The legacy of social justice and volunteerism created by a young community leader in Ottawa will now live on through a memorial foundation, one year after his sudden, tragic death.

Abel Mengistab was struck by a bus in June 2020 when he was 20 years old, and approaching his final year as an undergraduate at Carleton University.

"Everyone describes him as a gift of God … he was an incredible child — very smart, outstanding student, very much involved from a young age in social justice," said his father, Mengistab Tsegaye

Tsegaye says his son was always standing up for people, as well as animals, even at one point getting angry with his parents when they killed an insect.

His adolescence included marches for social justice, serving as a deacon in his church, and volunteering with his Eritrean community, his father says.

"He was a child that every parent would wish for."

Involved in politics at a young age

Mengistab became involved in the NDP when he was 15, eventually running a national campaign and leading the national and provincial riding associations in the riding of Nepean, as well as the NDP club at Carleton University.

"In politics, it's a blood sport and it's often treated as if, you know, your rival is your worst enemy. But what was special about Abel ... he never looked at others in politics that way," said Joel Harden, whose campaign Mengistab once volunteered for.

"His focus was very much on trying to help people and every single person."

Harden said Abel was the first to volunteer to canvass with marginalized people, to try and give them a voice.

The new foundation will be dedicated to the causes he cared most about, including children with autism, orphans, and homelessness.

"We wanted a way to continue perpetuating Abel's legacy," said Sador Bereketab, a childhood friend of Mengistab who is serving as the foundation's executive director.

"We were all inspired and it was something that we wanted others to continue to feel inspired."

submitted by Mengistab Tsegaye
submitted by Mengistab Tsegaye

Scholarships for like-minded youth

Each year the foundation will pick a focus. In 2021, it will focus on homelessness because of the hardships the pandemic has forced upon those trying to find housing.

Mengistab also worked at a local shelter and his father said he refused to give up his shifts despite worries from his family over the pandemic.

"He told me, 'Just because they are homeless, are you saying they don't deserve to be served?'" said Tsegaye.

"I reflected on it and I admired him, even though it was a risk and I said ... he's committed to this cause. I'm in the helping profession and I have been for the last 35 years, but I've never taken my commitment to that level."

The foundation recently made a $5,000 donation to the Haven Too youth shelter at Fourth Avenue Baptist Church, and will give $1,000 scholarships in Mengistab's name to post-secondary students that model themselves on the pillars of community involvement, academics and character.

Three scholarships were awarded this year and Mengistab's parents were able to meet the recipients at a memorial service held Saturday.

"We're extremely happy," Tsegaye said

"Meeting the recipients and [seeing] what they've done and what they would like to do, we see a little bit of Abel in all of them."

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