A Jamaican native, Madeline Edwards is a community advocate, founding member and Vice President of the Congress of Black Women of Mississauga and Area Chapter, and now an inducted member of the Order of Ontario — the province’s highest official honour.
On January 20, 2016, Madeline Edwards was one of 25 Ontarians to receive the award, which recognizes Ontario residents who have demonstrated a high level of excellence and achievement in affecting social change and helping others.
After spending five years in England and Scotland as a certified nurse and midwife, Madeline Edwards made the courageous decision to travel around the world. A close friend whom she had trained with suggested that she start with Canada. She had planned to stay for only a year, but ultimately ended up putting down roots after meeting her husband, and has since resided in Ontario, Canada for over 50 years.
It was in Mississauga, Ontario that she met a future co-founder of the Congress of Black Women of Mississauga and Area Chapter. “I said to her, why don’t we see if we could get something going and see whether we could get some support from the community,” said Edwards. Following that, Edwards, along with six other women, founded the Mississauga Chapter of the Congress of Black Women. “At this time, we were younger and our kids were going to school, but we devoted a lot of time. We had no funds so we used to meet in each others’ homes and that’s how we started,” says Edwards about the Congress’s humble beginnings. The group began by doing outreach work within the community and had developed a youth wing of the Chapter which had proven to be very successful over the years.
The organization consistently gives out annual scholarships to post-secondary students, runs March Break and six-week summer camps, and homework programs. One of the Congress’s huge movements of social change has been the development of Camille’s Place, a non-profit social housing project originally built to house women trying to escape abusive situations.
Edwards has been fortunate to sit on the voluntary boards of many government agencies and services. Among many others, she was one of the inaugural members of the Ontario Hospital Association’s Complex Continuing Care (CCC) before it became regional, she was on the board of the District Health Council, and she sat on the board as an interim member of the Retirement Home Regulatory Authority (RHRA). As a nurse who has also worked in psychiatry, many people reach out to her for help on a regular basis.
Madeline credits her call to activism and advocacy to her mother. “I grew up in a small village in Jamaica and my mother was like the village social worker. She fed everybody and she was always helping out and so forth,” said Edwards.
About receiving the highest honour of Ontario, Edwards says, “My first response was that there are so many deserving persons. Even though I received the award, it was a team effort; it took a group of us. When you do these things, it’s almost impossible to do it alone; you do it with a group of dedicated people."
When asked what advice she would give to young change makers, Edwards says, “When my daughters were younger, we used to have our Thanksgiving on Sunday. And on Monday, I used to put them in the car and go down to the food bank and spend some hours there sorting food. I used to say to them, there are people who are less fortunate than yourself and we need to be able to reach out."