Profile with Akosua Matthews

Akosua Matthews

Akosua Matthews (Manitoba & Green Templeton 2008) is currently pursuing a JD from University of Toronto Faculty of Law. She currently holds an MPhil in Comparative Social Policy for Oxford University and a BA in Philosophy from University of Manitoba.  

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Akosua Matthews: It’s starting to get a bit split now because I’ve spent time in Oxford and I’m now living in Toronto, but I’m originally from Winnipeg. I think I would still call Winnipeg home, but increasingly, my professional life and my life with my fiancé are here in Toronto. We’ve been in Toronto now for three years, and I’m going to be here at least another year for articling. And I imagine I’ll take my first couple jobs here, so Toronto is quickly becoming a new home, which is interesting because a lot of westerners love to hate Toronto. I’m quickly falling in love with this place. It’s really an awesome city.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

Akosua Matthews: This book—I still haven’t put it down because I’m not quite done—is called The Irregulars. It’s about British espionage in the U.S. in advance of WWII and during the early stages of WWII. Apparently, the Brits were involved in trying to insert propaganda and get the Americans onboard to join the war. The reason why I picked it up is because it’s actually about Roald Dahl, who we all know as an author of beloved children’s books, but he was actually originally working as an officer in the U.S. It’s a pretty interesting story. It’s slow-reading because there are so many references to people I don’t know, and it’s chock-full of historical events. I’ve always been interested in WWII history and the relationship between the U.S. and Britain, so this has it all.

Rhodes Project: What is currently playing on your iPod?

Akosua Matthews: Lots of hip hop music, but old-school hip hop, so Digable Planets for instance. I’m not really into modern hip hop, but I like the old cheesy hip hop where the rhymes are really corny. It’s something both my fiancé and I share, so we tend to have that playing most evenings.

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you aspire to be later in life?

Akosua Matthews: The first thing I wanted to be was a nun, which makes absolutely no sense because I was never brought up in a religious household. I certainly didn’t want to join a religion, so that made no sense. I had no idea why I wanted to be a nun, but later on, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, which is quite a professional job. And that’s what I’m heading towards now. I probably formed that desire mid junior-high, which was quite a few years ago, but I’m actually about a year away from being called to the bar.

Rhodes Project: What was your first job?

Akosua Matthews: My first job unofficially was babysitting. For an official job, I worked for the city of Winnipeg in youth drop-in centers in the North End, which is a bit of a rough neighborhood. I was sixteen or seventeen years of age and dealing with kids from pretty troubled backgrounds. I was working on school sites where there was quite a bit of crime nearby, having to deal with things like finding needles on the playground. Looking back, I think that was quite a tough situation for someone that age to deal with, but it was certainly eye-opening. It was quite different from what I had seen growing up as a kid, and I definitely learned a lot of skills of how to manage kids, run a center, and come up with creative solutions to problems that were arising all the time. There was a time when a kid came in with lice, and I was unable to contact a parent, so trying to figure out what to do with the kid for the day was quite a challenge.

Rhodes Project: What inspired you to pursue a career in law?

Akosua Matthews: I think it’s that I’ve always been interested in politics and systems of governance. Once I figured out that lawyers were actually involved in all of those systems, I thought it was an excellent career, not only as a way to get involved in politics eventually, but to launch into other things. My dad is a geologist, and he had had about six different careers with this one professional designation, so for me, it was equally important to be a lawyer as it was to be a professional. I thought it was a way to have some sort of flexibility in the future about what I wanted to do. Even though I will be legally trained and will practice as a lawyer, I don’t see that as the only kind of career I am going to have in my lifetime.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to your sixteen-year-old self?

Akosua Matthews: That’s funny. I think I’ve been doing it the other way around; I’ve been asking all kinds of mentors in my life right now for advice. A lot of them keep coming back to the fact that it’s okay to not be perfect. I was particularly worried about that as a kid. I wanted to get good grades in high school. I was concerned with getting into university.  It seems so ridiculous in a way. I probably spent a lot of time worrying when I should have just been playing or reading. I think the concern extends to today. It’s important to enjoy life—whatever stage of life you’re at—while pursuing your goals. I would just tell my sixteen-year-old self to relax, that there are many more opportunities that I could have ever have imagined, and that I didn’t have to work so hard or be so concerned about the future.

Rhodes Project: Whom do you most admire?

Akosua Matthews: Since moving to Toronto, I have come across a mentor. He’s a lawyer in his late seventies, his name is Bruce Alexander, and he’s the father of a current MP. This guy has quickly become a really close mentor of mine mainly because, even though he’s in his late seventies, he still has a childish way about him. He just recently got a smart phone and was really excited to learn how to use it. He’s really up on current events. He acts as though he’s in his twenties or thirties. He’s also inspiring for me because of his career. He said no to the partnership track when it was offered to him when he was a younger lawyer because he didn’t enjoy the culture of a private firm. He didn’t like the fact that he had to go golfing and spend a lot of time with people golfing because he didn’t like golf. He said no to all of that and did other interesting things. That’s very inspiring for me as I’m about to enter into practice. It’s unusual because I would tend to look for female lawyer mentors because the issues I’m interested in are how you balance work and life in a private practice, but it has ended up being Bruce, who is several generations ahead of me, who understood that work-life balance was important and acted on it.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Akosua Matthews: A number of things! I have a membership to the Art Gallery of Ontario. I love going there, spending time in the café, and checking out new installations. I go to the gym. I’m a cross-fitter now, as of a month ago. It’s brutal, but you leave feeling pretty awesome. I play ultimate Frisbee. Toronto is a great food town, with lots of awesome little restaurants. I spend a lot of time looking up new restaurants and bars that I would like to try with my friends. We make it a thing where we go every so often and check out these new places. It keeps me quite busy, all of those interests on the go.

Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy in your life?

Akosua Matthews: A really good cup of coffee. We recently started roasting our own beans at home. It’s a ridiculous story because we turned a bread machine into a bean roaster, so we had fun looking up on the Internet how to do that. And now we’re producing these really awesome beans at home and grinding them fresh and making awesome cups of espresso. It’s honestly the best part of my day. It’s a bit of science and a bit of nerdiness and a bit of pure unadulterated pleasure. It’s something that you can create at home that’s really delicious.

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