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Young People at a Workshop

Boldly Speaking.

THINKING DEVELOPMENT? THINK DEI!


I remember a time, not too long ago, when I felt I didn't belong.

If I want to be totally honest with myself, it wasn't for me to belong.  I was helping support a youth-led initiative while sitting firmly outside the appropriate age range to be referred to as a youth.  I was an ally.  And though I felt excluded at the end of the day, what really hurt was the sense that the young people who worked so hard to build a community initiative to address community issues, were placed on the margins of their own community.  


To give you some background, I first got involved when I was invited by an elder to assist the group in bringing their vision of a youth initiative to light.  I had previously collaborated with young Black leaders in my professional and community work, and my day job had exposed me to the ins-and-outs of mainstream institutions.  As a result, I had a good understanding of how interactions with these systems could shape the trajectory of a young person’s life.  So as I saw it, my job was to help provide context, ask challenging questions and help remove barriers as the youth dove deeply into their short- and long-term planning.


It was an awesome experience!  I learned so much from them – from the youth’s ingenuity, resilience and the depths of their life experiences – and we developed a great working relationship.  I looked forward to each planning meeting and became more and more excited as we marched steadily toward their destination. 


On the morning of the launch, we arrived early to set up and were faced with a number of unfamiliar faces.  Overnight, some of the elders had heard about the event and decided they would like to address the youth.  Because their schedules were tight, we now had to work around their availabilities. A new agenda had been prepared and printed for the day, and all of the work the youth had done had been upended.  Instead of a full day launch, the youth’s interactive learning sessions were relegated to perhaps an hour.  The rest of the time, they spent listening to speeches.  


I’m sure the youth benefited from hearing the wisdom of the elders, but I can also imagine what must have felt like for the youth to be placed on the sidelines of their own experience.  To not be included in the decision-making process.  For me, feeling excluded made me cautious to engage again.


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Recently, the African Union 6th Region Canada’s (AU6RC) has been in the process of launching its 1+1Million Initiative. Stretching goals of creating one million jobs in Africa by 2021, a commitment of an additional one million jobs across the Diaspora will help further boost economic and social development for all people of African descent, while fostering a sustainable approach rooted in cross-sector partnerships and entrepreneurial supports. Super-ambitious, but also super-doable if this project is tackled with an inclusive lens.


Inclusion not only ensures that the needs of women, youth, and the full diversity of African-descended peoples are met and that targets are measured, but it also ensures that those on the margins are at the planning table.  When meaningful inclusion occurs, the voices of under-represented people will inform how AU6RC’s success is measured, how it ideates, and how it makes decisions.  It will no longer be necessary to talk about what our brothers and sisters need, because they will be present to speak on their needs with first-hand account.

 

Attending the AU6RC’s pre-launch a few days ago, I started regaining that excitement that I felt with the young people I’d worked with previously.  At one panel, youth economic leaders shared stories about innovation, perseverance and grabbing opportunity by the horns.  Women leaders also shared what it means to balance multiple personal roles while also succeeding in business.  Fresh examples of leadership were given space and priority, and I imagine many in the audience felt their experiences were being validated in the process.


Of course, there is still more to do.  For example, a conversation about the necessity of getting African-Canadians out to vote in our upcoming federal elections – particularly given range of responses the main parties have had towards the interests of “the African Community” – subtly highlighted two points for me.  First, the Black community in Canada is not a monolith, and although there is strategic benefit to a Pan-African approach that unifies, we cannot oversimplify our diversity. Second, regardless our affiliation as African-descended people factors like income status, complex barriers to employment, housing instability, and our ability to address immediate needs can often take priority.  This means that we cannot effectively encourage civic engagement if we don’t acknowledge why people are being forced to disengage.  We need to be able to talk about systemic oppression and the barriers some of our brothers and sisters experience to have meaningful dialogues.


And again, if folks are going to feel that they belong and that they are shared owners in AU6RC’s vision, their differences, their experiences and the intersectionalities will need to be embraced as well.  They need to be represented at the table.


All that to say, I am so pleased with where the pre-launch has started, and where the international launch is going.  There will be many themed events taking place aimed at engaging diverse groups of people of African descent, and these include women and youth-led events.  I am thrilled to see what AU6RC’s diverse and mighty team will yield, and as an ally, I am happy to once again feel that I belong!

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