Over the past few years, activists have done their best to draw attention to and raise awareness of specific and difficult issues facing the black community and other people of colour.
Now, the Ontario government is working to address concerns by launching a brand new program specifically for black youth.
Recently, Michael Coteau, the minister of Children and Youth Services announced a new mentorship program for black children and youths that will help them “build confidence and develop skills for school and work.”
The new program, titled Together We Can, will also aim to help black children and youth build cultural awareness and identity.
“Together We Can is a great example of an on-the-ground solution to help improve the futures of Black children, youth and their families,” says Coteau. “Partnering with local community organizations to provide mentorship opportunities specifically for black children and youth will help them build the skills and connect them with the opportunities they need to succeed.”
According to the province, the program will support up to 25 locally developed mentorship initiatives for black children and youth in priority communities, including the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Ottawa and Windsor. The province will partner with community organizations to design and deliver the program in a way that responds to local needs, which could include activities like job skills training, tutoring or arts-based activities.
The program is timely because, according to the province, black youth make up 41 per cent of the youth in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto – five times their representation in the overall population. Reports also indicate that black students become “early leavers” of high school at higher rates – in Toronto, 23 per cent, compared to 12 per cent of white students.
Black youth across the province are unemployed at nearly two times the provincial rate.
Four programs are already in development:
- The African-Canadian Coalition of Community Organizations will deliver mentorship programs in the Regent Park and Alexandra Park community in Toronto
- NIA Centre for the Arts will deliver a mentorship program in the Vaughan area
- Tropicana Community Services will deliver a mentorship program in Scarborough
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel, in partnership with the Black Community Advisory Council, will deliver a mentorship program in Peel Region
- The province is inviting community organizations to apply for the remaining 21 programs.
Together We Can is part of the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan, a four-year, $47 million commitment to help reduce disparities for more than 10,000 Black children, youth and families in communities across the province. The province says it plans to invest $9 million over the next four years for mentorship programs as part of initiative.
According to the province, the program is being designed with the help of an external implementation steering committee made up of youth, leaders and experts from the black community, as well as feedback from community engagement sessions.
Since May of this year, over 25 engagement sessions on the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan have been held in 13 communities across the province. Community engagement sessions will continue throughout the summer.