Janelle Joseph recognized with Connaught Major Research Challenge for Black Researchers award

Assistant Professor Janelle Joseph in class (photo by Dewey Chang)
Assistant Professor Janelle Joseph in class (photo by Dewey Chang)

A new project supported by the University of Toronto’s Connaught Fund in partnership with the Black Research Network (BRN) will improve the health and reduce inequalities faced by people at the forefront of social justice organizations who work to serve Black communities around the world.

Led by Assistant Professor Janelle Joseph of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, the project will receive $250,000 through the Connaught Major Research Challenge for Black Researchers award to enhance the leadership skills of Black Canadian and Global South community leaders through anti-racist and embodied learning. 

“The evidence for attending to movement and the body in leadership is irrefutable, yet most leaders continue to spend their days seated, effectively ‘ignoring’ their bodies,” says Joseph, who will be steering the project that includes 72 Black Canadian and Global South community leaders and nine U of T faculty and staff across different disciplines.

“Without body knowledge, disavowal of our (and others’) full humanity and our co-relations with land is more likely – even among leaders who work in anti-racism, social justice, equity and wellness domains.

“This project will provide the evidence to tailor better leadership education and supports for marginalized leaders and the communities they serve, including healing from burnout and trauma, improved organizational capacity and communication, as well as advanced personal and interpersonal development.

“It will help us understand what is needed for interconnectedness and interdependence of diverse groups that are collectively addressing Black community well-being.” 

The project will also provide skill development opportunities to one undergraduate and three graduate students – with preference given to Black students – in the areas of community-engaged scholarship, knowledge mobilization and knowledge translation. 

“In addition to advancing their scholarship, the students will be empowering their communities,” says Joseph.

The project envisions three conferences over the next two years, each led by an interdisciplinary Embodied Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC) made up of university faculty and community partners.

The first conference, planned for May 2024 in Toronto, will explore difference, conflict, authority and creative problem solving within diverse groups of leaders. The conference will facilitate learning for social justice practitioners and leaders, exploring questions such as: what does awareness of the body and conscious movement have to teach us about unconscious processes, and how can this knowledge be applied in organizational social justice leadership?

The second conference, planned for October 2024 in Montreal, will explore the concept of ubuntu, an Indigenous African philosophy that situates the individual within the collective. Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu means ‘I am because we are’ in Zulu and emphasizes the driving connection between all beings. For this conference, Joseph will engage Black Canadian Women who work as equity leaders or wellness entrepreneurs and will explore questions such as: how can Indigenous ways of knowing within Black women’s communities foster the use of the body and conscious movement to develop leadership capacities and support togetherness in organizations?

“I’m looking forward to building on my existing community relationships,” says Joseph. “We have been working on ways to bring Black Canadian women together to focus on wellness, but up until now didn’t have the funding to realize our dreams. 

“Now we can dream even bigger.” 

The third conference is planned for June 2025 in Cape Town, South Africa, and will explore the questions of burn out and healing for social justice leaders from the Global South using movement and body awareness as tools towards developing self-care, interdependence and resistance. 

“So many scholars and community members are interested in the body and leadership but we approach the work separately because we don't have many chances to put our ideas together,” says Joseph. “I am thrilled to lead this project with scholars from multiple sub disciplines of kinesiology, education, health and business. 

“I'm most excited about forging new relationships with scholars and community members in the Global South and specifically South Africa, who will nurture new ways of thinking for the benefit of our local and global communities.”