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UofGH alumna Suze Morrison on her path from hardship to making history
Grassroots organizing is all about having a message people can rally behind."
For University of Guelph-Humber alumna Suze Morrison, post-secondary education was not something she could ever take for granted.
Among the earliest memories of her childhood, Morrison recalls living with her family for two years in a school bus after a fire claimed their family home. From the age of nine, Morrison lived in student family housing as her single mother pursued a university degree.
So when Morrison eventually enrolled in UofGH’s Media Studies program, it was not a decision she made lightly. She pursued her education with a clear goal in mind: she wanted to learn the communications field to better understand how to continue her grassroots and community activism with Indigenous and health care non-profits across Ontario.
Now that Morrison has been elected Member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto Centre, she feels better-equipped than ever to continue working toward that goal.
“I’ve always been really passionate about politics, but I didn’t follow a formal path to politics,” said Morrison. “I grew up very poor and I had to fight tooth and nail to put myself through school while my mom was also going through school.
“We were always on the front lines of these grassroots movements because we had to be. It wasn’t a choice to get into politics. We were just fighting for our rights.”
Finding a way
While at UofGH, Morrison completed internships in the communications department at Trillium Health Centre and Food Banks Canada, both positions she was able to continue part-time after completing her field placements.
Those positions, along with her coursework in Media Studies, helped Morrison gain both an academic and experiential understanding of communications that proved immediately helpful in her community initiatives.
“The school really was superlative,” she said. “Having a formal educational background in mass communications theory has been a huge asset in being a better grassroots organizer.”
Given her financial hardship, she had much on her mind beyond her studies. She said the student support system at UofGH and Humber College helped.
“I carried a lot of stress into my degree. I really had a lot of challenges securing funding,” reflected Morrison, noting that being a student at the same time as her mother made the process of applying for funding “quite complicated.”
A historic win
After graduating from the University of Guelph-Humber in 2010, Morrison continued her community work.
In 2013, she joined forces with several other women in London, Ont., to co-found an organization called Women and Politics. She also sits on the board of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and she has been active in trying to stem gun violence in her neighbourhood of Regent Park since witnessing a shooting alongside her husband in the summer of 2017.
“Grassroots organizing is all about having a message people can rally behind,” she said.
Beyond her community work, Morrison is also a fervent motorsports enthusiast who is a two-time women’s champion in autocross.
Even with that competitive background, Morrison knew she was considered a longshot to win her downtown Toronto riding, which had never before elected an NDP candidate. However, given what she had overcome already, she was undeterred by the odds.
No one was more excited by the result than her mother, Morrison said.
“She was ecstatic. I think she was crying all week,” Morrison said. “Imagine raising two girls in a school bus and seeing them rise to leadership in their community. I can’t imagine how she must feel.”