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Tonika Morgan: From Street Dreams To Transformative Realities

07/16/2013 05:02 EDT | Updated 09/15/2013 05:12 EDT

The Order of Canada citation brilliantly captures the biography of Canada's own Francis O'Dea.

"Frank O'Dea's triumph over adversity continues to captivate the hearts of Canadians. His personal victory over substance abuse and willingness to share his rags-to-riches story have inspired others battling addiction." Indeed.

The life of O'Dea began in poverty and then transitioned in to substance abuse and homelessness at a young age in the mean street of Toronto. In his teen years his only concern was to raise enough money in order to buy and consume the cheapest alcohol out there. In time he left all these, cleaned himself up and became a successful activist and businessman as co-founder of the Second Cup coffee chain stores.

He used some of the wealth he accumulated to fight for, support and found just causes all over the world. Street Kids International, an anti-addiction agency named Renascent and War Child often comes to mind. He also became one of the the most visible supporters of Ottawa's 1997 Landmines Treaty via his Canadian Landmines Foundation.

In a Canada -- where neither your own shortcomings nor circumstances should ever define your destination - there are rare Canadian stories that I have come to celebrate. The story of Tonika Morgan often comes to mind.

Like Frank O'Dea, Morgan also experienced being homeless with very little education at a young age. Her own shortcomings and circumstances made her angry at herself as well as society. She felt lost and confused. Finding mentors to give her foundation and advice became hard to find.

The only option she had was to turn to an area shelter to find refugee and reform her young life. The shelter gave her space to grow and reflect. As she transitioned out of the shelter and went back to school - she also became an eloquent voice to a wealth of young girls and women who were experiencing the many shortcomings of life in the troubled areas of Jane and Finch.

She founded an organization - Medina Collective - with a youthful ambition agenda of helping empower young women from marginalized communities. The aim of the group became the use of feminism arts and urban culture to help inspire a new generation of Torontonians believe in themselves no matter their place in society.

Morgan also became a board member with Youth Challenge Fund - a provincial funded United Way project that administers public funds for community initiatives in so-called priority neighborhoods. She also secured a job with Women Moving Forward courtesy an anonymous funder helping young women transition from the imprisoning poverty to higher education.

In celebration of all her efforts - the activist who is also a noted entrepreneur was asked to carry the Women's Global Charter for Humanity to six national events across the country. She reflected how - "I have faced a lot of adversity in my life. I want Canadians to understand that women want and need a place as leaders and decision makers. Carrying the Global Charter for Humanity is an opportunity for me to help mobilize and inspire all Canadians; to move them into action against poverty and violence."

For her efforts - the ever busy activist and public speaker that CBC TV once called an "innovative change-maker" was honoured as a Volunteer of the Year by Flare magazine, the YWCA as Young Woman of Distinction and by the City of Toronto as the receipt of the Constance E. Hamilton Award on the Status of Women.