Kujenga Wellness Youth Youth Empowerment Programs

Let’s Talk Cafe: For Youth & Allies

On August 19, 2020, the Kujenga Wellness Team hosted the 3rd Let’s Talk Cafe. In this cafe, we focused on the needs of youth within their lives, their families, navigating anti-Black racism, addressing their mental health needs, and forging healthy futures for themselves. We were honored to host several youth and youth allies. It was our first session where we truly ran out of time, and could not pose all of our questions. We were re-affirmed. Youth have power, and when we give them space, they will use their voice. Through this listening circle, we learned as a team what we need to do to support youth. We learned that we need to include youth’s voices in the Kujenga Wellness Project, and need to give youth a space for leadership, direction and advisory over the project activities.

Summary of the Results

In all of our virtual discussions, we asked participants to identify: how they perceived wellness within their lives and their families, as well as to identify the challenges they experienced with systems (i.e. healthcare, education, mental health), and the impact these systems has had upon their identity, their sense of self worth, their families, and within their community. With our youth participants, we could only explore the first question as the participants had to spend time “unpacking” and assessing the impact of the systems upon their experiences as young people.

What challenges do our young people experience in navigating systems?

Health Care Systems

Health care system was not made for Black individuals and bodies. Youth experienced unequal treatment by health care professionals who discriminated against them, generalized their symptoms without further investigation, and dismissed their concerns. One youth noted that the physician made an “assumption” of her symptoms, without even bothering to request tests and stated, “I see youth come into my office all the time with carpel tunnel because of cellphone use”.

Employment

Youth had a difficult time accessing meaningful employment, feeling “safe” in their employment to express their identity, and often felt questioned about their employability skills. Their colleagues often perpetuated race-based stereotypes, and they felt forced to address the issue. For example, one participant had to speak to their colleague after they made an assumption that a Black individual shopping in their store would potentially steal. Youth also expressed difficulties while looking for employment. They noted that some employers have questioned the youth’s resume and asked if they “lied” on their resume. Employers and educators have forced youth to speak on topics of “race”, regardless of whether they had expertise on the subject. Youth stated that they were denied jobs based on their: names, their skin colour, their places of residence. Youth shared that they were forced to “prove” their experiences at work, while their white counterparts may not have had to or were assumed competent. Youth stated that they had to worry about wearing their natural hair to work or how their colleagues would respond if they wore different hairstyles over a period of time. The youth noted that they have had to “water” down who they are at work and could not be “themselves”, due to stereotypes about what does it mean to be Black? Finally, our youth identified that employers often looked “surprised” because their name did not appear as Black identifying or that their name appeared affluent, as though Black names had to look and sound a particular way.

Education

Youth felt, “unsupported and disregarded within the education system”. The teachers and professors dismissed them when they asked for help, or ignored them altogether. The curriculum had no information about their identity, and felt that the curriculum was White dominated and reinforced White privilege, history and supremacy. Guidance teachers and teachers have discouraged youth from going to University, and felt they were better suited to “trades” or lower paying jobs. Youth always had to be aware of their “spaces”, and felt that they had to present differently at school or at work because their “Blackness” was not accepted. This was further true for LGBTQ youth who shared that they had to assess Black and non-Black spaces to see if they were “accepted” by others. Another youth shared that permanent and temporary teachers had a different learning experiences marked by race. Even as a temporary teacher, youth felt they could not express their identity, and worried about scrutiny from their peers and other professionals.

You always remember the barriers and carry that with you [discrimination], [this] affects [your] confidence and ability.

Participant, Let’s Talk Cafe: for Youth

Mental Health

Youth expressed that their mental health needs were not being met. They stated that the experience of race trauma created and manifested feelings of anxiety. One youth noted that she developed anxiety after moving to a community where she experienced people: staring at her, treating her as though she did not belong, excluding her from participating in activities, feeling unsafe in her community, and feeling isolated. Youth expressed that their parents came from Caribbean backgrounds, and placed pressure on them to be successful in their education. This pressure led to youth feeling that they had to be hard on themselves, and increased their feelings of anxiety. As youth have to navigate and identify their identity, they often between torn between their “true” self and identity and the image that they were “supposed” to uphold and the “othering” which often occurs with Black identity.

We should be able to be who were are without feeling like we’re not good enough – I should be able to walk into any space and say “this is who I am”

Participant, Let’s Talk Cafe: for Youth

As a parent, listening to the experiences of our youth under 29 and hearing their struggles was increasingly painful. There are no words to describe how this experience was: triggering, hard, and disempowering. The burdens young people struggle with due to race can carry them throughout their lifetime.

How dare these systems, teachers, employers, professionals, and community leaders create unsafe places for our children, and our young people? Why should our children and youth continue to remained oppressed?

We place our faith, hope, and love into this generation of powerful youth. We definitely witnessed this in the Let’s Talk Cafe editions. We know that young people can take on the next stage of advocacy, leadership, mobilization, and support to guide our communities, our region, our province and our nation. We implore our young people to join our initiative, to use their voices, and to help us create sustainable change.

How our youth find empowerment?

We were pleased to note that these experiences did not hinder our youth from finding peace within their lives, and in different ways. The youth highlighted how they have learned to create healthy boundaries within their friendships, and support their friends as they navigate through their experiences.

Prayer

Can’t attend our workshops? Submit your comments in our survey:

Good Friendships

For more information about our youth initiatives, check in with us in a few weeks. Join our Let’s Talk Cafe for Men and our Let’s Talk Cafe for LGBTQ2s+ community members. Interested in facilitating a workshop, support group or virtual cafe, submit your interest to: Become A Facilitator.

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