Imagine being an 18-year-old boy, in a crowd of 130 young people of African Canadian descent and more than 70 adults. A microphone comes your way, and you are given the opportunity to share your experiences of the child welfare system. You talk about your foster home. How you are not invited out to dinner with the family, how they don’t talk to you, how you go to school, come home and go straight to your room. And then you break down. You say to the room that today, at this event, is the first time that you’ve seen your sister in years. It’s been so long you almost didn’t recognize each other. You are crying, unable to continue speaking, overcome with emotion, but soon, you are held up and encircled with the love of other youth and elders. A circle forms around you, everyone crying, everyone feeling your pain and heartache, everyone committed to change…for you.
This was Power Up! The first symposium for African Canadian youth in care ever held in the province of Ontario, held in early July.
Youth were welcomed to the symposium with a traditional African ceremony known as “libation,” a way of giving thanks and recognition to the ancestors. Sunset Services, an organization dedicated to servicing, “sexual minorities, people of colour, and members of marginalized racial and ethnic communities” were also in attendance to open the historic event.
Youth were given the opportunity to participate in three workshops, which took them through the evolution of African Canadian empowerment.
Roots Up, which was led by Dr. Akwatu Khenti, Assistant Deputy Minister, Anti-Racism Directorate, was an exploration of the history that has shaped Black/African Canadian people.
Wake Up!, led by Kike Ojo, Project Manager, One Vision One Voice, which focused on social context and understanding and responding to oppression and anti-Black racism.
Power Up! Led by Tope Adefarakan, Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression Practice Supervisor, Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto focused on an action plan for youth encouraging them to help change the child welfare system by providing their input and feedback on several One Vision One Voice initiatives.
A three-person panel, which included Journalist and Activist Desmond Cole; Visions of Science, CEO, Eugenia Duodu; and Youth Engagement Facilitator at Cross-over Youth Project, Thaila-Paige Dixon.
The highlight of the event was the “Ceremony of Belonging.” Led by two elders from the African Canadian community, the ceremony focused on affirming youth. Adult participants who were members of the African Canadian community physically encircled all 130 youth, each sharing comforting words they wanted the youth to know. Staff voiced statements to the youth such as, “you are loved,” “you are special,” “you are wanted,” and in turn the youth shared with the community the words they wanted to be heard, “Thank you,” “We are brave,” “I know I am worthy.”
The event marked a turning point for many of the youth who gave positive feedback attesting to the intense feeling of connection they felt over the two days.
In the words of one youth attendee, “I found my home here. I now have over a hundred brothers and sisters and plenty of new aunties and uncles.”
A slideshow of the event is available above, and a full video recap of the Power Up Symposium will be available in the coming months.