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Marcia Nozick: 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient for Professional Achievement.

Marcia Nozick: 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient for Professional Achievement

March 18, 2019 — 

The recipients of the 2019 University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Awards are graduates who are outstanding in their professional and personal lives. These honourees encompass a wide range of achievement, innovation and community service and inspire fellow alumni, current students and the community.


My mother would say that I was very independent and stubborn. As I got a little older, I was quite rebellious.

I’d call myself a rule-breaker and I probably am to this day.

I was a child of the 60s. I was in love with John Lennon; he was my idol. It was a time of expansiveness, changing the world, risk taking and that’s kind of who I was.

I had this piano teacher who was just a powerhouse. She really was a big influence on me. She showed me that if you really worked hard and persevered you were going to succeed. I had a lot of self-discipline and drive to learn, even as a rebellious kid.

I needed something to feed my people side and my conceptual, academic side. In city planning, I found myself. I found my niche.

When I went into city planning, I was looking at an area that was brand new and kind of pioneering it. I became an advocate for what we call community economic development. Cities have disparity among them: is there a way that you can work at neighbourhood levels and develop opportunities for people who’ve been marginalized?

The U of M was a huge part of my life. It was the place where I could learn about what I was interested in; I could test things out.

My master’s thesis eventually became a book. It kind of launched me out into the world. I found myself travelling over North America giving keynote speeches on sustainable communities and all of that came from the university.

Before my book was published, it was sent out to various readers to get feedback. Somebody in Vancouver passed it on to David Suzuki’s wife who passed it on to him. One Sunday the phone rang and I answered it. “Hello, is this Marcia? This is David Suzuki.” I nearly fainted. We had a long, long conversation. That was a big highlight of my life.

When EMBERS had its first annual golf tournament, one of our workers came up to speak. Darryl had recently come out of prison, no friends, no money, no where to go. He came to EMBERS and we got him a job on a construction site. He had the biggest smile, the best work ethic. The site wanted to keep him for as long as they could. During that time, we trained him and he eventually became a carpenter. The most important part was he was the first person in his family to break the cycle of crime and addiction. He was such an inspiration.

Work – to me – you could take for granted. For someone like Darryl, it’s much more than just income. It’s self-esteem, it’s a sense of identity, of purpose. They’re miracles: their lives transform, they change, they’re different people.

It’s inspiring for me to realise how much a human can do. Honestly, I see that every day.

I live on the east side of Vancouver, about a 15-minute bus ride to work. It’s a very diverse neighbourhood, filled with life and culture.

Every city is different, but I think what all cities need is heart.

We’re only as strong as our weakest link. A city is an organism so you can’t just cut off the rich from the poor. We need to care about all of us. To have a healthy city you really need to look very holistically at the opportunities for work, education, health and housing to meet everybody’s needs.

Looking ahead 60 years, my hope is that there’s a shift from doing business for profit to doing business for profit and social good. That’s the way we’re going to change our world. You have to bring the business community into social change. They are one and the same.

The U of M is my alma mater, so this award is important to me, but it’s also given me perspective. I’ve realized, “wow, I’ve come a long way from where I was.” Starting a tiny organization, believing in it, sticking with it, and growing it into a multi-million-dollar enterprise that employs thousands of people each year… I usually don’t blow my own horn, but I’m feeling very proud now.

About Marcia Nozick

When Marcia Nozick [BA/75, MCP/88] graduated with her masters in city planning, she could have picked a number of ways to make a name for herself, such as designing a new suburban development or transportation corridor. Instead, she chose to revitalize Canada’s poorest neighbourhood: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In 2001, she founded EMBERS, an innovative temporary labour company, and has since helped thousands of people facing work barriers attain full-time employment and reintegrate into society. Today, EMBERS is a multi-million-dollar social enterprise, and Nozick is a nationally-renowned community champion.

The University of Manitoba will recognize the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients for their outstanding achievements and contributions at the Celebration of Excellence gala on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.

Tickets are $85 and can be purchased online or by calling Alumni Relations at 204-474-9946, or toll free in Canada, 1-800-668-4908.

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