Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey

Study program:
PhD History and African American Studies
Current affiliation:
Yale University

Wendell is examining how cross-border migrations in Great Lakes cities enabled Black people to effect political change in Canada and the US.

My project reasearch

Wendell’s doctoral project situates twentieth-century black migration and activism in Canada and the United States within broader historical processes and diasporic currents. He examines the civil rights activism and labour struggles of people of African descent in North America, particularly in Great Lakes cities. His study connects urban history across national lines at specific moments through the lenses of race, region, migration, and labour. He compares and contrasts the ways that African North Americans on both sides of the border shaped domestic strategies for resistance, community building, and economic success, including unionization, even as he remains attuned to transnational cooperation. Wendell’s cross-border comparisons shed light on issues such as citizenship, political inclusion and exclusion, workplace racial inequality and industrial relations, racial conflict and interracial coalitions, and residential segregation. 

Tell us about your research project and its central idea. 

My dissertation project explores the twentieth-century struggles of African Canadians and African Americans in their pursuit of human and civil rights. My interdisciplinary research is anchored firmly in the subfields of urban, labour, transnationalism, and migration history, areas that in recent years have seen some of the most exciting scholarship in both Canada and the United States. By examining the work, migration, and politics of African North Americans, I argue for a shared consciousness across national lines. 

What led you to choose this research project in particular? 

There has been a peculiar erasure of African Canadians in the twentieth century and a dearth of historical analysis on the topic. I had an inspiring history professor as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto who underscored the importance of centering the lived-experiences of disenfranchised women and men in national histories. Given the integral role that black communities in Toronto played in pressuring the federal government to liberalize Canada’s exclusionary immigration policy in the years after the Second World War, I felt obligated to dig further. My digging led me to Yale University. 

What is new or surprising about your research? 

One significant contribution is a demonstration of how cross-border migrations enabled blacks in Great Lakes cities to effect political change in Canada and the US. I also hope to disrupt the way the civil rights freedom struggle is narrated from a US-centric perspective by including Canada and African Canadians as an active site and active agents of the US and continental racial struggle.  

In your opinion, who will most benefit from your findings? 

My research fills a scholarly gap on twentieth century Canadian history. As a result, academics and students (including high school students) will benefit from my analysis and interpretation of black activism and freedom struggles. Politicians, policy practitioners, and NGOs will also benefit from my research because of its orientation towards social justice and human rights, civil society, democracy, and the rule of law.  

Within the next three to five years, what impact could your research have on the Canadian public policy debate? 

One of the most significant impacts that my research could have on the Canadian public policy debate is to emphasize the efficacy of grassroots organizing. The fact that marginalized women and men have played notable roles in making Canadian society more inclusive, democratic, and just is a vital lesson for politicians and policy analysts, for the simple reason that ordinary citizens are the driving force behind transformative changes, not governments. To this end, I hope to leverage the lived-experiences and struggles of disenfranchised Canadians as a catalyst for progressive public policies.

A grateful beneficiary of a Trudeau Foundation Scholarship, as well as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship, Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey is currently pursuing a Joint PhD in the Department of History and the Department of African American Studies at Yale University. His doctoral research examines the ways in which twentieth-century African North Americans and their diasporic counterparts forged transnational freedom linkages around civil rights and organized labour in the inter- and post-war years.

Wendell has several years of professional experience consulting on health care, education, and youth and child welfare policy for the Health Strategy Innovation Cell at Massey College in the University of Toronto, the Fraser Institute, and Peel Children’s Aid Society. He also worked for nearly three years with the federal government in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Prior to starting his doctorate in 2012, he served as a case manager for three years in a federally-funded, University of Toronto-evaluated youth gang prevention and intervention initiative in North Toronto. Combining his penchant for scholarship and research, and community development and social justice, Wendell advocated for inner-city youth and collaborated with community partners and the three levels of government to address holistically issues of disenfranchisement, poverty, and violence.

Wendell traces his involvement in community development and social justice broadly to his experiences as a child in Accra and Toronto, but specifically to 2005 after Toronto experienced the infamous “Year of the Gun.” In response to a record-setting year in gun-related homicides of inner-city youth in Toronto neighbourhoods, he founded and successfully managed for five years an award-winning non-profit organization that provided mentorship and educational support to marginalized youth. Wendell has received numerous awards, fellowships, and distinctions for his work, including such notable honours as an Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers, a Peace Medallion from the YMCA of Greater Toronto, and representing Canada as a delegate to the fifth UNESCO Human Rights Leadership Institute in 2009. Wendell is a founding board director of the Tujenge Africa Foundation, a U.S.-incorporated charity that promotes peace-building, nation-building, and leadership training for high-performing, low-income students in Burundi, the world's poorest country. In July 2017, Wendell became a board director of the Inspirit Foundation, a national organization that promotes citizenship and pluralism through impact investing on youth-led initiatives.

Wendell earned a BA (honours) in History and International Relations in 2008 and an MA in Political Science and Ethnic, Immigration, and Pluralism Studies in 2009 from the University of Toronto. As an undergraduate, Wendell published two peer-reviewed journal articles on US-Israeli strategic relations and the evolution of Canadian immigration policy in the post-war period. He has published opinion pieces for the Toronto Star and the National Post. He considers his father and mother as his greatest hero and heroine.


  • May 30, 2018
    Congratulations to 2014 Foundation scholar Wendell Adjetey, whose doctoral dissertation, “From the North Star to the Black Star: African North Americans and the Search for a Land of Promise, 1919-1984” has received no less than four awards. In addition to receiving Yale University’s Willard Brittain, Jr. Leadership Award, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences bestowed three honors on Adjetey’s dissertation: the Sylvia Ardyn Boone Prize for African American history, the Edwin W.