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Category: Youth Perspectives

Youth Perspectives 0

Education for Black Youth

As a psychotherapist and social worker, I am honored to work with young black youth and their families supporting healthy mental wellness and addressing family issues.  Research demonstrates that systemic issues such as anti-Black racism, poverty, education, systemic oppression, inter-generational trauma and more intersects with mental health and family dynamics.  Given this, the initial assessment in psychotherapy or family counselling includes an assessment of intersection issues.

At times, parents and young people can embrace this assessment and can recognize the impact of anti-Black Racism upon their lives.

Some articles for consideration:

Canadian Education is Steeped in Anti-Black Racism

Youth Perspectives 0

Creating Enriching Cultural Experiences for African-Canadian Youth

Our African-Canadian youth are growing up in a world where culture and identity continues to remain dynamic and acquiescent.  Cultural identity is as crucial to the Adriannadevelopment of self as other factors such as gender, sexual identity, personality and self-esteem (Ishwaran, 1979).  Research demonstrates that during adolescence, young people embark on an essential journey to formulate their identity, goals and passions which inform their self-esteem, self-worth and their connections with other people (Wilkinson, 2003).  Without a strong connection with one’s cultural identity, self-erosion occurs.  Youth who do not have the opportunity to learn about and connect with their cultural identity risk assimilation, alienation, withdrawal and integration (Wilkinson, 2003 and Wallace, 2005).  In this sense, the youth seeks to fulfill their needs of belonging with other venues some of which are self-destructive and take time further away from their divine purpose.

­Recently, my daughter was offered to attend a trip to Kenya sponsored by an organization named, 30 Elephants, which works collaboratively with Me to We and Free the Children.  It was a once in a lifetime experience which provided her the opportunity to return to her cultural roots and connect with the people, the land, the culture and their way of life.  When you develop a connection with “something” in the world outside of yourself and can share similarities with others, your perception and outlook of the world also changes and transforms. The same is true when we connect with the nature of our history, our spiritual roots, our music, our food and people who have common traits.  It is these moments that we learn the importance of cultural identity.overlooking

My experience with African-Canadian youth in foster care and group care is an example of the experience of erosion of cultural identity. African-Canadian youth in Canada are overrepresented in the child welfare system as there is a higher percentage of African-Canadian youth in care than in the general population.  This experience is directly linked to systematic racism and discrimination with the child welfare system and the community (Bonnie and Pon, 2015).  One of the challenges for African-Canadian youth in the welfare system is being disconnected from their cultural identity through apprehension, displacement and isolation from their family and kin.  In the system they face a variety of difficulties such as an increase in depressive symptoms, low-self-esteem and learned maladaptive strategies to address symptoms of distress (Scott and House, 2005).  Cultural displacement of youth in care leads to a loss of culture, faith-based practices and social connections with their community (Clarke, 2011).

Thus, in this population, we see the tremendous impact of erosion of cultural identity due to the physical removal of youth from their families and communities. For African-Canadian youth, how do we reinforce, teach, educate and lead them to understand and involve themselves in developing a closer connection with cultural identity?  There is not just one pathway, but rather several avenues one needs to explore as we seek to re-establish and re-affirm ourselves as African peoples.  In addition, we accept that our cultural identity will become diverse as we blend and merge with other cultures and the dominant culture.  However, by diversification we seek to enhance our identity and improve outcomes for ourselves, starting with our youth.


Suggestions for practice:

  • Rites of passage ceremonies and programs are essential features of African culture. When my daughter turned thirteen, I planned a similar practice where I gathered my daughter and her friends together to spend an evening on self-care activities, facial masks, manicures and pedicures and fed them a very youth friendly meal. In the morning, I served them breakfast and gathered elders around to pray and commit my daughter’s life to our spiritual being. Each adult pledged to offer in prayer one of the youth who attended the celebration. I pulled aspects from my African heritage to incorporate in the creation of this ceremony. Similar rites of passage are operating throughout the Greater Toronto Area and consist of several week-long programs focused on enhancing youth’s knowledge of their culture.
  • Narratives or story-telling was a way in which elders shared the culture, morals and lessons to young people. Such story-telling was a way to pass down information from one generation to the next. This is an essential part of African culture and consists of oral traditions, proverbs, parables, music, dance, art and rituals as some of the approaches used to support healing, to educate and develop identity for its members (Sutherland, 2011).
  • Teaching our young people about their history before and after Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, major contributors of African history and world history, the growth of spirituality and belief system, and more are the only ways we can transfer our history onto the next generation. We cannot rely upon the education system to teach our youth our history.
  • In addition to teaching our young people about their history, it is important to teach young people to critically analyse and deconstruct systematic racism and oppression.
  • Encourage youth to develop a higher sense of social responsibility and community focus when engaging in learning about injustices and inequality. We saw this in our past, when young people joined the Black Panthers and followed Martin Luther King Jr. in his marches for equality and today, with the popularity of the Me to We foundation in reaching youth.
  • Understanding anti-oppressive practices and helping youth identify barriers in their lives so they do not become discouraged, but resilient and challenged to overcome them.
  • Trauma experiences can create a long lasting impact upon up to seven generations. As African peoples, our history is embedded in trauma experiences and trauma reactions which have not been helpful to our healing and growth. If we can identify that trauma experiences impact our emotional and social well-being, we can learn ways to heal in a healthy way.
  • As “elders” we have a duty to support our young people through mentorship and guidance. Think about the people who shaped your development. Our children need the same people in their lives.
  • Supporting our African-owned businesses and initiatives helps build community, reduces unemployment rates, and opens up opportunities for youth’s success.

Creating positive outcomes for our young people is a collaborative effort that truly puts the passage, “it takes a village” to heart!


Bonnie, N & Pon, G. (2015) Critical well-being in child welfare: A journey towards creating a new social contract for Black communities in Conere, Jeannine & Strega, Susan, 2nd Edition: Walking this Path Together Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive Child Welfare Practice. Halifax: Fenwood Publishing.

Clarke, J. (2011). The challenges of child welfare involvement for Afro-Caribbean Canadian families in Toronto in Children and Youth Services Review, 33(2).

Ishwaran (1979) Childhood and Adolescene in Canada. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Rankin, J., & Ng, P. (2013, March). Unequal justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails. Retrieved May 2, 2015, from The Toronto Star:

Scott, L. D., & House, L. E. (2005). Relationship of distress and perceived control to coping with perceived racial discrimination among Black youth. The Journal of Black Psychology, 31(3), 254-272. doi:10.1177/0095798405278494

Wallace, Stuart and Ali (2005) The Ryerson-Wellesley Determinants of Health Framework for Urban Youth

Wilkinson, Deanna (2003) Guns, Violence and Identity Among African American and Latino Youth. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing.


Youth Perspectives 0

The State of the State’s Youth

The state of the State’s youth looks at the collective experiences of youth in care in the children’s aid society. My work with youth in care of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), has given me a glimpse into a multi-faceted and complex issue that most youths face in care. I have observed that while in care, youth’s lives are transformed, their

clem-onojeghuo-186834-unsplashfamilies are pulled apart and put on trial as their past experiences are dissected and analyzed. As a result, their future opportunities are questionable within the discourse of modern society. Many youth struggle with being able to manage the changes within their lives, and thus, often resort to maladaptive coping skills and affiliation with delinquent groups that create a false sense of belonging and individual success. As youth develop and graduate through the child welfare system, they are often released from that very system…depending upon their commitment to the Society, with an insufficient support system. In addition, they have few meaningful attachments that are healthy or foundations to build their future upon. The social issues facing youth living as Crown wards within the child welfare system, the challenges that they face as youth, and how they are affected by these issues are remarkable and requires further examination.  Altogether, it is a tumultuous time for our youth when they are in care and when they are leaving the Society’s care.

The period of adolescents is a time of optimal growth and development as youth begin to refine their identity and skills as they emerge into adulthood. Theorists such as Erikson and Piaget have focused upon understanding this special time for youth.  For example, Erikson found that the external world played an important role in creating meaningful experiences and life events to form a child’s identity. Erikson theorized that the family interaction is a part of the social environment that helps shape a child’s identity, experiences in the world, and their ability to cope with the crisis (Ishwaran, 1979). As the youth develops they learn to view the social world, “as an organic unit with its attendant laws, roles and functions, to dissolve his sense of egocentricity by a sense of moral solidarity, to engage in diverse social interaction and communication to relate to adult authority with a sense of equality and justice” (Ishwaran, 1979, pg. 11). The diagnostic perspective, as one author writes is related to the psychoanalytic research by Freud, looks at the influence of children and past experiences in how they affect the person’s functioning within their present lives (Turner, 1999). Understanding that a youth is a combination product of their history helps social workers within child welfare to diagnose and treat the difficulties that youth express in their daily lives. Attachment theorists place important emphasis on the child’s ability to connect with the outside world. Attachment is defined as “the emotional bond between an individual and another person, group or institution” involving a sense of belonging, acceptance, solidarity, social affirmation and identity as, “a person’s sense of self-definition in relation to others whom s/he is like in some ways and not like in other ways” (Cottrell, 1996 pg.15). A “parent-youth relationship perhaps the primary human associations, not only socializes the young both for membership in their particular culture, but also serves as an interpersonal arena for cultural change.” (Peterson, et. Al , 2005, pg. 8-9). Studies demonstrate that healthy parent-teen relationships were connected and perceived with school connectedness and protective against health risks. Further health and risk behaviors were studied to be connected and tied to self-esteem, adjustment to school, relationship with parents, and low sexual activity (  Peterson argues that acceptance and rejection are on polarized continuum, where acceptance is marked by warmth, affection, care, comfort, concern, etc. whereas rejection is characterized by cold, hostile, neglectful, and un-differential rejecting. A poor attachment or lack thereof makes it difficult for the youth to relate to the world in a healthy and positive manner. Thus the literature suggests that youth with these poor attachment and parent relations remain at risk for success within their social and personal environment.

Given that the external experiences or “nurture” argument for psychologists impacts the development for youth, the present transition for youth into adulthood is often an stressor cassandra-hamer-470060-unsplashfor youth, especially youth in care. Wilkinson writes that adolescence is a stressful time manifested by changes in the body, social status and cognitive abilities (2003). As youth, they struggle to affirm their personal identity, which is their, “sense of self-definition in relation to others whom he/she is like in some ways and not like in other ways” (Cottrell, 1996, pg. 5). Youth resolve their personal identity with their social group prior to their relations with their family; thus as youth move away from family connections they seek to forge connections with social groups and support networks that confirm and shape their own identities (Cottrell, 1996). Wilkinson further identifies that adolescence, “is a time of pursuit of some universal goals for adolescence: social affiliation, task mastery, social identity and autonomy” (2003, pg. 7). Without positive role models and social groups, there can be a tendency for youth to associate with negative peer groups and gangs who foster the sense of belonging that youth are searching for to develop their sense of self. Youth who are unable to cope with these profound changes, are met with a great deal of stress leading to situations such as low self-esteem, depression, poor interpersonal skills, insecurity, anxiousness, impulsive behavior, and a sense of no control (Cobb, 1992).

Further, Wilkinson argues that the development process of youth vary by race, social class, gender community, and family background citing her own work with African American youth. She stated that these youth need to reconcile their ethnic identity in relation to the majority which further leads to assimilation, alienation, withdrawal and integration (2003). There are currently 42% of children of care who come from minority backgrounds, which represents a disproportionate number from Aboriginal and ethnic minorities’ families and backgrounds. These numbers may also help to explain their difficulties with assimilating with the mainstream, in addition to other factors such as poverty, cultural differences, economic barriers, inequality and racism within the child welfare system, and lack of special social supports to name a few (Wallace,, 2005).feliphe-schiarolli-642720-unsplash

Transience within their natural homes and within care leads to instability within the development of the child in their environment. A disrupted education for youth who move from different schools leads to gaps within their education, and increases their risk of early drop-out from school, and difficulties in reading. In a similar assessment, another group of researchers wrote that educational achievement among crown wards was also below that of the general population. In their analysis of the system, they found that youth in care experienced barriers to achieving their educational outcomes due to instability and changes in school. In areas of employment opportunities, support services, and income status, the same researchers also found that youth in care continued to experience similar barriers that restricted their ability to find material success within society and a support circle of family and mentors (Wallace, Stuart and Ali, 20005). High transience within one’s life and poor attachment leads to difficulties for youth to develop meaningful relationships with others such as adults, and authority figures. Jones remarks that instability and transience increased the likelihood for an unsuccessful outcome for youth in care adding, “The disruptions in the lives of children removed from their birth families often include frequent changes in caregivers, schools, and social workers as one of the largest contributing factors to the instability experienced by youth in care” (Jones, 2005, pg. 406).

Many youth have criminal records and have been incarcerated sometime in their history (Jones, 2005). A similar article stated, “studies indicate that foster youth tend to have higher levels of problem behaviors than their age mates and are more likely to have been incarcerated or in trouble with the law” (Farruggia, Greenberger, Chen, and Heckhausen, 2006). There existed a correlation for the older youth, who came into care, with the number of criminal arrests. The researchers also found that youth who experienced several placement changes in group homes and foster homes were unable to develop a secure attachment with any primary caregivers (Haapasalo, 2000).

Many youth in care are victims of child abuse in varying forms and have experienced a great deal of trauma. “Evidence indicated that child abuse may result in antisocial behavior, depression, withdrawn behavior, and inappropriate sexual activity” (Browne, 2002). Many youth in care carry several mental health diagnoses such as eating disorder, conduct disorder, depression, bi-polar disorder, Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder, and much more. Suicide rates for example are low among youth in care however a variety of youth often engage in self-harm behaviors such as, “throwing themselves out of moving cars, drinking poisons, pushing tacks into their body, severe head banding, and trying to hang themselves” (Goodman, 2005). Risking behaviors also include promiscuity and high sexual behavior, substance abuse including alcohol and illegal drugs, AWOL, involvement in criminal behavior and gangs not listed in reports gathered through my research but prominent within my client base. In addition, many youth act out behaviorally within their natural and out of home placements in a verbal and physical manner, and in some cases required a physical intervention by police or staff within a residential setting.

taylor-grote-415994-unsplashThe first step in intervention and prevention work is learning to understand the problems that youth face within their families and in care, and then providing a list of tools that are effective in managing the way that the child welfare system intervenes and prevents these issues from occurring.

Child welfare agencies should provide the necessary intervention when a child is unable to live with their families in a timely manner as well as permanency planning beyond their childhood years as a step towards changing the lives of youth in care. Training and compensating foster parents for work with children and youth in terms of understanding their attachment, special needs youth, the effects of trauma and how to address the behaviors children exhibit will work to prevent placement breakdown and permanent surrogate families for youth in care.

Some agencies are using intervention methods to support youth to remain in their natural homes and educate and manage parents with the difficulties of raising youth within this world. As youth graduate from the system, there needs to be more social support available to maintain a positive relationship with some, “individuals who took an interest in their well being, their emotional health, physical comfort and material needs, and who could help them feel special…” (Rutman, et. Al, 2001, pg. 37). Another goal for youth transitioning out of care would be to teach them the skills for interdependence and independent living by giving them more skills, training youth, providing opportunities for responsibility, increasing support and counseling during the transition, and establishing connection with other agencies to support any further needs that will be required as adults (Rutman,, 2001).hybrid-414717-unsplash.jpg

There are inequalities in the expectation that they must behave and think as other youth their age. There are inequalities in the system that gives them adult responsibility and isolates and institutionalizes youth from their communities, and places expectations upon them to function within society.

These youth are developing in a society where the gaps between the wealthy and the poor are increasing and the opportunities for educational and employment success are questionable for those who are poor. Youth who graduate from the system do not have the economic means to survive within this particular economic system, yet they are forced to by government legislation that enforces their emancipation from care at very young ages (Wharf and McKenzie, 1998). Finally, there are inequalities in the legislation on children’s rights even through no national declaration on the rights of children (Wallace, 2005).

Overall, being a youth in care may lead to an experience of barriers they face in developing a foundation within the world and changing their historical roots that may have been mired with generations of disruptions and experiences of trauma. Social and economic factors militate against successful outcomes for youth. Transience, poverty, low education, poor mental health, poor social influences, disrupted sense of identities, abuse and neglect are few of the social and economic factors facing youth within our world today. It is important that we give a voice to youth’s experiences and advocate changes through their understanding of what is in their best interests. Ultimately, despite their past experiences, it is the responsibility of the youth to overcome or remain oppressed by the barriers that they face. It is important that we continue to consider, “the power of an individual’s will and ability to act, change, and self-determine, and [use] the tools of time and agency structure to motivate [youth] to deal with their problems (Turner, 1999, pg. 185).


Reference List_ State of Our Youth


Youth Perspectives 0

Understanding the Experiences of Black Male Youth in Canada

black male youthThe lives of African Canadian male youth have become an important topic of discussion as events in the United States between Black males and law enforcement have begun again to shed light on their own policy and practice. This social justice and public movement has been forefront in social media as individuals and community groups reinforce the disparities which exist among African-American males and insist that #blacklivesmatter (Rankin and Ng, 2013). In Canada, our own policy makers and enforcers have struggled with meeting the needs of our African Canadian youth and families in many social systems from education, to child welfare, employment and postsecondary education, income equity, mental health and criminal justice. The disparities within the Black community and experiences of oppression, poverty, racism, exclusion and more derives from the rise of capitalism and experience of slavery.  For Black male youth in Canada, this historical context has shaped the policies, discourse, the systems which service Black youth, popular attitudes and beliefs systems. This shaping has become ingrained within a structural and cultural context. Some of these experiences such as poverty, education, media, racial profiling, and mental health have had a significant influence upon the development of Black youth within our communities.

Racial profiling is connected to cultural attitudes, such as popular media (Mahiri and Conner, 2003) which all play a significant role in defining public opinion about Black male youth (Wortley and Tanner, 2004). In all, these experiences further impact Black youth’s psychological wellbeing (Scott and House, 2005) and their ability to become successful in their lives with barriers which exist. Ng and Rankin write, Black male youth “face racism, poverty, lack of opportunity, social isolation, violence in their neighborhoods, family challenges and unemployment” (2013). Black youth have experiences of poverty, lack of resources, mental health difficulties, and lack of appropriate educational access which further impacts their participation within their community at a greater degree (Rankin and Ng, 2013). Avvy Go, Colour of Poverty noted that the rates of poverty in Canada appeared to correlate with skin colour. She noted that 1 in 10 of Caucasian children/youth experience poverty while the rate lowers for other ethnic groups to 1 in 3 of Caribbean descent experiencing poverty and 1 in 2 of African descent children/youth experiencing poverty (Go, 2012). Go highlights that poverty intersects with racism and subtle discrimination with various education, economic, business and governmental sectors. The experience of poverty correlates with youth’s achievement in education, their access to acceptable employment which meets their best potential, and access to resources such as healthy meals, suitable housing, and opportunities (Rankin & Ng, 2013). Similarly Campaign 2000 in their annual report on child poverty write, “eradicating child poverty in Ontario requires addressing and dismantling long-standing systematic inequities [that] …may limit access to quality jobs, income supports, higher education and social supports for children and families” (Khanna, 2014).

The experience of poverty further intersects with educational opportunities, mental health, and community availability of resources. Education is an endorsed and encouraged foundation to many African and Caribbean homes (Khanna, 2014). The pursuit of education was fostered as a response to the experience of slavery where literacy was denied to individuals due to race.  Part of this belief shared by Afro-Canadians is that access to education and opportunities meant higher social and economic power and resources (Smith, Schneider, and Ruck, 2005) for individuals. Black parents who immigrated to Canada envisioned Canada as the country which provided greater educational, social, and economic opportunities for themselves and their children (Smith, Schneider, and Ruck, 2005). It was not cultural values which influenced the current state of Black youth in education or youth disengagement with education but rather related to systematic racism, a non-supportive school environment, lack of connection with educators, limited Black role models within the education system and misconceptions of Black youth (Gordon and Zinga, 2012). Black youth are currently over-representative in special education classes, among students who were suspended/expelled, in remedial programs, and in applied and modified education streams (Gordon and Zinga, 2012). These challenges influenced the Toronto District School Board decision to open up an Afro-centric school which focused upon, “organizing itself around a holistic model of communal principles, while making the totality of black-lived experience relevant to all parts of the curriculum in order to foster the social, physical, spiritual, and academic development of students” (Gordon and Zinga, 2012, pg. 6). Education inequities among Black youth intersect with lack of community resources. Over the years, funding cuts continued to impact the Black community and programs originally designed to improve their participation in the community and develop a greater voice (refer to Involve Youth program allocated by the City of Toronto, 2007).

One of the popular media images for Black youth is the connection between them and violence. In the US and in Canada, “urban youth are inscribed by stigmatizing images of social pathology in the official discourse of the media and the legal system as well as in social welfare and public policy institutions” (Mahiri and Conner, 2003). The belief that Black youth are “prone” to violence seems to be part of a systematic chatter that has persisted over time and impacts how police officers, legal professionals, educators and other professionals in the public interact with them. This connection between Black youth and violence appears in pop culture and the media, which further reinforces misconceptions (Mahiri & Conner, 2003).

Over-criminalization is another challenge with youth justice (McMurtry & Curling, 2008). The rates of black youth that are stopped by police or “carded” are staggering and black youth experience higher rates of incarceration than white youths (Rankin & Ng, 2013). Racial profiling is connected to cultural attitudes, such as popular media (Mahiri and Conner, 2003) which all play a significant role in defining public opinion about Black youth (Wortley and Tanner, 2004). In all, these experiences further impact Black youth’s psychological well being (Scott and House, 2005) and their ability to become successful in their lives with barriers which exist. Black youth experience systematic racism and racial profiling that impacts their rates of incarceration and involvement with the police (Wortley and Tanner, 2004).  Racial profiling has been a “hot” topic lately considering the rise of violence against Black youth due to police officers and other security personnel using excessive force upon Black youth engaged or not engaged in criminal behavior. One author writes, “racial profiling is said to exist when the members of certain racial or ethnic groups become subject to greater levels of criminal justice surveillance than others” (Wortley and Tanner, 2004, p.199). An analysis of police card data showed that trends exist in race, age and gender among individuals stopped by the police over a period of seven years. According to the Toronto police data, black youth aged 15 to 24 were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped by the police than white males (Rankin, 2010) (Wortley and Tanner, 2004). Police carding transcends socio- economic status, educational level and profession which then creates and manifests beliefs about self and sense of belonging and safety (Rankin and Ng, 2013).

These experiences have ultimately contributed to negative psychosocial outcomes for youth. Some of these negative outcomes include increase in depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, and learned maladaptive strategies to address the stress. Scott and House reference “among youth, the strategies used to cope with various stressors have been linked to internal cues of emotional distress and perceptions of control” (Scott and House, 2005, p.2). Youth are aware of the systematic racist environment in which they live in and this becomes evident with how they define their self-concept and self-worth. One author terms, “daily racism microstressors” as the experiences and messages Black youth receive from their environment about their value within society (Scott and House, 2005). Sometimes these beliefs become ingrained in how they see themselves and their sense of belonging. Systematic racism do not just impact the lived experiences for Black youth, but ultimately impact their psychological development (Scott and House).

The correlations discussed above strongly influence Black youth’s involvement in the criminal justice system. These issues occur at systematic macro levels in terms of education and poverty. There are other correlations which exist, such as the over representation of Black youth in child welfare and in the criminal justice system. Proponents argue that child welfare conceptions of Black families and subjective assessment of risk plays an important role in their professional capacity in working with Black families (Rankin and Ng, 2013). Cultural mezzo levels in terms of mental health and media portrayals of Black youth, as well as lack of social programs to meet the needs of youth (Scott & House, 2005) and (Mahiri & Conner, 2003).

For Black male youth, it seems fitting that policy changes are critical to bring upon the change required for better life outcomes. However, at the same time the need for change and the issues impacting Black male youth is complex and requires further examination and assessment by policy makers.The available resources are dependent upon funding, and in Toronto alone there are insufficient financial resources available to satisfactorily meet the needs of the 250,000 approximately Black people within the region (Rankin & Ng). Changing the youth criminal justice system, the educational system, mental health services, and child welfare would require changing ideologies about the Black community, particularly young males.  In addition, other communities have been able to meet the needs of their community without depending solely upon Ministry funding. This may be a question of mobilizing the Black community to work together to develop programs and achieve financial resources to meet the needs of their community, without looking to the government to make policy changes that suit Black male youth. I believe that the best mobilizers are the individuals within the Black community, who have the insight, experience and knowledge about their community and can inform the policies which best meet their youth. Working in the system or outside of the system will not be effective entirely because it is not a priority for the government currently. In addition, there are no specific statistics on this problem/issue because race data is not collected in many public institutions in Ontario particularly. But the statistics are important and the experience of youth witnessed by youth leaders, community members and families speak to the crisis which exists for Black male youth.


City of Toronto. (2007). Staff report action required: Receiving funds for Involve Youth Program and service delivery agreement with a community-based agency. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from

Department of Justice Canada. (2013). Youth Criminal Justice Act: Summary and background. Ottawa: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. Retrieved from

Go, A. (2012, October 12). Poverty and Rce. P. (S. Jackson, Interviewer) Retrieved from

Gordon, M., & Zinga, D. (2012). “Fear of stigmatisation”: Black Canadian youths’ reactions to the implementation of a Black-focused school in Toronto. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy(121), 1-37. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from

Khanna, A. (2014). 2014 Report card o child and family poverty in Canada. Toronto: November 2014, Campaign 2000.

Kuehn, S., & Corrado, R. (2011). Youth probation officer’s interpretation and implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act: A case study of youth justice in Canada. International Journal of Compartive and Applied Criminal Justice, 35(3), 221-241.

Love, R. (n.d.). African Canadian Legal Clinic comment on Star youth incarceration statistics. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from The Toronto Star:

Lynch, N. (2012). Playing catch-up? Recent reform of New Zealnd’s youth justice system. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 12(5), 507-526. doi:DOI: 10.1177/1748895811432013

Mahiri, J., & Conner, E. (2003). Black yout violence has a bad rap. Journal of Social Issues, 50(3), 121-140. doi:10.1111/1540-4560.00008

McKenzie, B., & Wharf, B. (2010). Connecting Policy to Practice in the Human Services (3rd ed.). Toronto: Oxford University Press.

McMurtry, R., & Curling, A. (2008). The review of the roots of youth violence. Ottaw: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Rankin, J. (2010, February 6). Race matters: Blacks documented by police at high rate. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from Toronto Star:

Rankin, J., & Ng, P. (2013, March). Unequal justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails. Retrieved May 2, 2015, from The Toronto Star:

Scott, L. D., & House, L. E. (2005). Relationship of distress and perceived control to coping with perceived racial discrimination among Black youth. The Journal of Black Psychology, 31(3), 254-272. doi:10.1177/0095798405278494

Smith, A., Schneider, B., & Ruck, M. (2005, August). Thinking about makin it: Black Canadian students beliefs regarding education and academic achievements. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34(4), 347-359. doi:DOI: 10.1007/s10964-005-5759-

Statistics Canada. (2015, May 31). Definitions. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from Statistics Canada:

Wortley, S., & Tanner, J. (2004). Discrimination or “good” policing? The racial profiling debate in Canada. Metropolis Net, 1, 198-210. Retrieved from

Youth Perspectives 0

Nia Gwenda- Girls with Purpose

What does it mean to be a girl with purpose? What does it mean to be a girl? What does it mean to have purpose?

Originally Girl Talk, Nia Gwenda concept was born in 2009. Since then, we have mentored many girls in various contexts. Most of the time girls are not aware of the impact this group has upon their lives. But it is a seed. It is always a seed planted in their memories and their mind, to remind them of their power as a girl and a girl with purpose.

One month into the 2015 winter group of Nia Gwenda, I had a moment of sadness. In the span of a month, I serviced a dozen girls in the group and individually who were bright, intelligent and beautiful. However, they did not see their beauty. At 11, 12, and older these young women were brainwashed to believe they were less than human, less than desirable, and less than worthy of friendships and love. I’ve been there, but to see them be there was/is painful.

One night, our group of girls watched Amanda Todd and related to the horror that she experienced as a young person. The same girls related because they experienced or observed girls experience such horror.broken To hear these girls say: people think I’m a bisexual (at 11, shouldn’t you make your own decision when you’re ready?), I cut my arm when I’m upset, I tried to overdose on medications, I hate a member of my family,  I’m bullied by others because of my skin colour, I am treated less than human because I have a disability,  I have no friends, I can’t be friends with other girls, I don’t know my family or culture, my classmates use drugs, I consider some girls a “hoe” or a “thot”…. What can I say, but wow.

Why do we live in a society that values money more then people? That focuses upon capital gains rather than relationships?  A society that pushes sexuality and not relationships? That values sameness and shuns differences? Why do we live in a society that forgets to notice you as a person, but focuses on your accomplishments, your likes on Facebook (borrowed from Oprah) or your followers on Instagram? What is society creating, because it is not uniqueness, acceptance, empathy or love?

Parents! Every girl needs to be connected to a girls’ group and program. Your daughter needs to know her value and the only person to teach her her value is you and other adults. Their peers can bring them down with their lack of understanding about what it means to be a girl with purpose.

So how do we begin to heal our daughters? I believe acknowledging how difficult their journey is in 2015, is the first step. A few weeks ago, my daughter came to me and said she was having a hard time in math and didn’t understand some of the concepts she had been taught. She had a big test in a few weeks, and worried about the outcome. There are many ways I could have responded to her worries. I knew that instead of studying she sometimes could watch hours of Netflix, and I knew that her busy dance schedule took her away from her studies (her choice)…. but I also knew that the competitiveness in her nature made her strive for academic excellence despite her challenges with the material. I chose to acknowledge where she was at, with no judgement. I encouraged her to take a break, and give herself time to learn the material. The learning was more important than a mark. Her anxiety noticeably decreased. Validating your daughters experiences is more powerful than teaching, correcting, or criticizing. Knowing that we all have our strengths and weaknesses puts your own daughter’s challenges in perspective.girl on knee

What you do need to teach your daughter is how to “cope”. For my daughter, I needed to teach her how to manage the pressure of a fast-paced curriculum, how to decrease her anxiety about school performance and achievement, and how to value herself regardless of her performance.

For our girls it may be how to cope with girl drama, how to manage being bullied, how to decrease anxiety, and how to feel good about yourself. One of the natural reactions parents may have is to try to fix our young people’s problems. Everyone wants a Knight in Shining Armour. At 37, my knight in shining armour is myself. I have to figure out the rules, to problem solve difficulties, and to deal with my own difficult feelings. I truly wish my parents did more teaching and modelling than “saving” so I would have learned the skills to manage better at a much younger age. Our young people need to learn how to value themselves in the face of bullies, as opposed to knowing that the bully could be suspended and when they return to school become more violent and harmful. Teaching our young people how to recognize fear, how to calm our bodies down when we are afraid and how to respond to what is causing fear is far more powerful than teaching them to only talk to a teacher when fear comes.

The second step to healing our girls was borrowed from Native teachings around competency and responsibility. I believe that humans strive to feel they are competent. We all want to have a skill, a talent, or a gift to feel valid in our world. Many young people I have worked with have no idea what they are good at (i.e. playing video games is not a skill). From the time your child is young, provide them with opportunities to learn and develop their competency. When they achieve well, ensure to validate their efforts and how they feel about themselves. When they don’t do well, do the same thing. At 11 years old, I knew I wasn’t an athlete at all. During a regular track and field meet, I was forced to sign up for the 1500 metre race. It was horrific. I had horrible shoes, no proper clothes, and no training. I started out good, but after the first lap I was well behind my peers. I toyed with the idea of quitting and giving up as I continued to run laps. I even tried walking for a bit. I ended up convincing myself that I would complete the race regardless of the time. The chatter in the background was not helpful. My peers and teachers were putting me down and criticizing how horribly I ran. But I focused myself on the chatter in my head. I focused on finishing and not winning. When I finished the race, I felt a satisfaction in my competencies that remained a powerful memory for years. Teach your girl how to feel competent, how to do her best and focus upon meeting her realistic objectives. Then congratulate her efforts for working hard to accomplish her goals.railroad

The same is true for responsibility. As a parent, I created opportunities for my daughter to develop her independence and to feel responsible for herself and her actions. My sisters joke with me, saying that at one-year-old, my daughter was so independent that she was changing her own diapers. No, I wasn’t that bad but I encouraged her to do things on her own. The messages I gave her was: you can do this, I believe in you, and you are competent as opposed to: I don’t care to help you, I am more interested in my own needs, and your needs don’t matter to me. Ensure you are giving your girl the right message when you are teaching her how to formulate her independence at 11 years old.

Responsibility, then only fits in with independence. The messages your daughter needs to hear is: I am capable, I take responsibility for my actions, and I can achieve my goals. But how do we do this in a world where people believe taking responsibility means you receive punishment? How do we achieve this when we live in a world where guilt and shame are intertwined? And, because responsibility can be linked to shame (I am a bad person), it seems as though no one wants to accept this outcome? I wish I could preach! We all make mistakes, but taking responsibility builds our mistakes into successes. We learn from failures and we learn to move on. These are the messages we need to strive for and to teach our girls. We need to teach them that the feelings that come from failures, recognized weaknesses, and mistakes are just feelings and you can manage it. However, in my work with girls, many girls have never learned how to accept defeat within themselves. When they feel defeated they try so hard to avoid that feeling, they end up using drugs, self-harm, repressing their feelings, developing depression and more.

As parents, we teach our girls through our own experiences how to manage difficult feelings. starting freshWe teach them how to cope. We teach them how to be okay with themselves despite what has happened. We teach them how to get up and move on. My favorite song is, Donnie McClurkin’s, “We Fall Down”. The experiences our girls have to encounter are not fair, but it is the nature of our life. I know that they are stronger than us as parents because they have the capacity to rise above these experiences. (Same is true for past generations) Acknowledge this! Validate their experiences. Teach them independence to achieve their goals. Congratulate their efforts. Teach them how to manage failure and weakness by taking responsibility. Address shame by building confidence that they have the ability to overcome.

The third step is to increase your girls support system both informally and formally. Ensure that in every avenue of their lives, there is a loving adult who will admire and love your daughter as their own. Acknowledge that as parents we can not fill the gaps to our child’s support network. We are not “it” and should never create a community that does not involve trusting adults in your child’s life.

My childhood was rough and I had some emotional moments that no one knew about. I never had the courage to tell anyone, but I didn’t need to spill my guts. I needed to feel the other stuff: validation, independence and competency. As immigrants to Canada, my parents had limited family support. They made friends through church and work, and included these friends in their lives. We had regular Sunday dinners at their homes. These women, matriarchs of their homes became my aunties. My aunties had a passion for girls and started groups for us as well. It was very informal, and I had mixed reactions at the time. But I’ve said this over and over as I have grown older, my aunties saved my life. The village my family created led to the creation of a buffer that helped me to learn how to re-frame my negative experiences into opportunities to grow and learn. They taught me how to manage my feelings and recognize that the attacks I experienced, were not personal but systematic. Whoa! I got chills.


When my daughter turned 13, I invited my friends and anyone else I knew who was positive to attend her birthday party. She invited 20 of her closest friends. I told the girls’ parents that this was a rites of passage birthday party. In the night, the girls had a sleepover and got spa-like treatment in my home. We catered and showered them with love, acceptance, and nurturance. I talked with them about life pressures and challenges, and I got some real responses about their experiences in grade seven. In the morning, the adults came over and had breakfast with the girls. The leaders in my family (the elders) prayed over my daughter and her girlfriends. They cancelled negativity from their lives and welcomed success and achievements, safety and strength. The elders and the girls broke off into groups for discussions and came back as a group. Then, the girls even had a fashion show where parents showered them with affirmations, love and acceptance. Each elder then went around the room and sponsored each girl, whether in prayer, to be their support person, or to provide mentorship.

I share this not so you can create the same rites of passage in your family. I share this to highlight the importance of “community” in your child’s life. We live in a world where individuality is highly valued despite the centuries we lived in communal dwellings. The community is a powerful force in your child’s life, and if well-created and maintained, it will serve as one of the main support systems that will carry your daughter when life becomes too difficult to manage.

I hope that on your journey as a parent of a young girl, you will always know that you are the most important person in your daughter’s life.

Your impact is greater friends.pngthan any negative force that will try to harm your daughter.

Consider Nia Gwenda for your daughter.


Bless,  Nicole

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Youth Perspectives 0

Raising your teen-child

brokenWhen I was growing up and living in my “adolescent ” years, I remember having good moments and times of intense emotions. During these times of intense emotions, I isolated myself and attempted to hide the pain. Sometimes it came out as anger. There were times I could pinpoint the nature of my pain and other times, there were no words to describe it. I had to grow through this experience on my own. However, I remember clearly adults and relationships with others were instrumental factors in my development and my healing, as well as helping me to define my identity, my belief systems, my values and my actions. Despite the pain of the adolescent years, I enjoyed learning, growing and becoming me.

Thus, it was no surprise to me when I  tuned into a webinar training which focused upon the power of relationships during adolescence. The webinar was  hosted by the University of Toronto Social Work facility led by Dan Siegel. What was exciting about the webinar was hearing Dan defute some critical myths about the adolescent period and highlight the need for relationships, novelty and independence for young people. A light bulb clicked for me. I felt my ideals validated as well which is important for every fresh person heading into their chosen career field.

When I was younger, I had many aunts (related and via friendships) who took the time friendsto connect with me and provide me insight. I began to love the moments of listening to my aunties talk about life and laugh with each other. These women taught me about relationships. They gave me tools on how to understand men. They spoke to me about critical values such as integrity, wisdom, humility, and more which became the foundation of my own personal values. My aunties helped me to refine my identity and shape my understanding of myself and women. They also encouraged me to critically analyze the role women play in society and become interested in areas of social justice. During my emotional distress one of my “saving” grace was learning to look outside of my issues and pain, and focus upon understanding others struggles.

As an adolescent from 13 to 22 years old, my peer social group also played a significant role in my development. Through my peers I felt loved, accepted, validated, and part of a cultural group independent of my parents. Youth culture was enmeshed into my daily living in the music, the foods I liked, the clothes I wore, the image I hoped to portray, and the activities I partook in.

Finally, learning was a critical experience as an adolescent. As I began to read more books, I stumbled on history books, books on social justice and politics, philosophy and anthropology and so much more. Learning was as addictive as anything else I craved. Learning opened new doors for me and helped me to develop emotionally.

Eventually the pain was replaced with stability with grounding with balance to secure. When I left my teens years I was secured in the fact that I had thoroughly learned what I hoped to learn and was prepared and equipped to tackle the longest life period, adulthood.prayer

If you are seeking to support your young person, here are some tips :
EMPATHY! Showing empathy goes a long way to supporting young people as they emerge into the person they will be. The struggle is long and tough, but only the young person can take away from their experience what they need to be strong.

RELATIONSHIPS…are critical for your young person. Form a different relationship with your child where you provide guidance and leadership, but also an ear to listen and hear. In the relationship, always show the respect you need to the youth. Young people learn by example, and if you don’t respect them don’t expect them to show the same respect for you.

MODEL good values and principles to your youth. They are looking to you to show them how they can be great adults. They also follow your mal-adaptive coping strategy. If you need support, seek assistance to help you as an adult so you can support your youth effectively.

CREATE opportunities to help your young person learn by connecting them with libraries, encouraging volunteerism, supporting critical thinking, challenging inconsistencies and poor behavior, rewarding meaningful experiences with relationships.



Youth Perspectives 0

Facebook Your Life- Therapeutic Activities for Youth

Facebook and similar social media websites have enhanced communication and media influences upon our young people. In my opinion, these social media websites are avenues young people use to express themselves freely without the barriers around social communication and intimacy is shielded by the computer. It is critical adults take the time to supervise and monitor their young persons Web use, but also feel open to discuss social media with their young people.

Purpose: encourage youth to talk about and express their identity using social media tool and art.

Materials: art paper, pens/pencil crayons/ markers

Target group: males/females, 12-19years old, group or individual

Time alotted: 45 minutes or 2 sessions depending upon youth

Activity: prepare art supplies for youth on table

Encourage youth to sit within groups

introduce the youth they are going to create a Facebook page about their life, their experiences and identity

Encourage them to divide the paper into distinct sections. The title is their alter ego name or nickname used to identify or disguise their identity.

One section is their interests, likes, favorite artists or band, etc as similar to the profile page on Facebook.

Another section is their background which highlights where they are from, which high school they attended, what neighborhood did they live in, what religion they ascribe to, their cultural heritage.

Another section is their relatives, their friend lists, their status, etc. This is the are which speaks to their social relationships and affiliation.

An important section is their wall, which includes notes they may say, notes from others who write on their wall, sayings and other pictures they borrowed from others and more. This speaks to their current life experiences and can encourage youth to reflect upon how they present themselves to others on social media sites.

It is very appropriate to add or delete sections which may be appropriate for the target group or individual. You can highlight areas you hope to support the youth in gaining insight but also expressing themselves.

In processing the activity, develop two or three key areas you want to focus upon. Encourage youth to reflect upon areas included in this activity. For example, you can focus upon the identity section and encourage youth to describe their process in this section. Ask the youth to discuss how their identity may influence their beliefs and behaviors. Ask the youth about their values and how their identity is impacted by such values. You can also encourage the young person to analyse if others recognise their personality from how they present themselves. This question opens up critical thinking about self and encourages them to take perspective of others.

Overall, this activity can be a starting point to discuss many topics relevant to youth and is a creative way to encourage them to express themselves using art.


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