A Mississauga man who fought for Black children to be treated with respect in Peel Region is being remembered as a "warrior, friend, brother and mentor."
Kola Iluyomade, born June 11, 1965, was 56 when he died on Thursday, June 24. Of Nigerian ancestry, Iluyomade leaves behind a wife and two sons.
Iluyomade, a parent, community leader and activist, was a founding member of Advocacy Peel, which describes itself as a grassroots multicultural organization led by parents that was founded in response to the "discrimination, pain and suffering" of children of African descent who attend schools in the Peel District School Board (PDSB). He was a child and youth advocate.
Kathy McDonald, trustee for the Peel District School Board representing Brampton's Wards 3 and 4, said Iluyomade made a real difference.
"Not only the Black community, but also the Peel Region lost a true social justice champion. Kola was unapologetically African and he fought tirelessly for individuals and the system to recognize and see the humanity in African, Black and Caribbean children," she said.
Iluyomade had just been hired as a graduation coach by the board but died before he started the job.
Politicians, friends and allies say Iluyomade worked to disrupt systemic anti-Black racism in the education system. His advocacy took the form of speaking at board meetings, going to protests, marching in the streets, doing committee work and writing letters to push for change. He would also speak at rallies and community events. They say he would hold child welfare, policing, the courts and unions accountable.
"He held everyone to account when you harmed Black children. It's not ironic that he fell ill when actually fighting for and advocating for Black children. That was his life's work. He will be well missed," McDonald said.
"He was at all tables, advocating for change," she added.
Idris Orughu, a community organizer, said Iluyomade was a "consummate" activist.
"Kola was a fearless fighter. His voice was loud. He was a mirror to all of us. It didn't matter if you were Black or white. If you were on the side of the oppressors, he would call you out," Orughu said. "He didn't pick sides. He only stood for the truth. There were quite some people who thought he was controversial, but I knew he wasn't."
"He was an absolutely brilliant mind. He was a proud African. We wore that and allowed everybody to see that. He was always a brother to count on," he added.
Orughu said Advocacy Peel worked to have the Student Resource Officer program in Peel schools dismantled. The program put uniformed police officers in school. It was cancelled in November 2020.
Colin-Winston Derek Browne, a friend and a member of Advocacy Peel, said Iluyomade was "Superman" to him.
"Kola meant a lot to the Black community in Peel," he said. "We at Advocacy Peel think of him as a brother. Kola is many things. He's a mentor, father, all around advocate."
"He stood up for the rights of Black children at the PDSB when everybody else at the board thought it was not necessary to think or to even bother with Black students. I strongly believe Kola gave hope to Black students in PDSB and that's why I call him Superman," Browne added.
Iluyomade spoke whenever he could and he spoke about the Black experience and "how it's not a game, not a story, it's actually real," Browne explained. Iluyomade also offered solutions as to how to cope with being Black and living in Peel, he added.
'He wanted us to be seen as human beings'
For Wonuola Yomi-Odedeyi, a Burlington woman who works as a high school teacher at the Halton District School Board, studied with Iluyomade in university in Nigeria. She said he was a compassionate person who stood on the right side of justice. Iluyomade studied law in Nigeria.
"He once said that all of our children should be treated with respect. He wanted us to be seen as human beings. He was unapologetic about his views," Yomi-Odedeyi said.
"He knew that discrimination in our society is codified. With his law background from Nigeria, he could read the law and help us to better navigate the system. He did what was right, not just by our children, but by racialized people generally," she added.
"He fought for our children because he knew this needed to be done. And if we didn't do it, the lawmakers were not going to do it for us. We had to do this. He was a catalyst for change."