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Afro-youth program teaches mental health, advocacy through art

The program, a partnership between the Afro Women and Youth Foundation and the Sudbury Workers and Youth Foundation, offered youth of African descent support the tools to express themselves through art

The Afro Women and Youth Foundation, in partnership with the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre,  created a program to offer youth of African heritage (ages nine to 16) a chance to take part in creative activities while learning about mental health and self-advocacy. The five-week program was funded by a grant through the City of Greater Sudbury and the participants enjoyed not only the chance to learn beading, sewing, painting, and other crafts, but also, on the last day of the program, participants shared what they learned at a celebration hosted at Place des arts in downtown Sudbury. 

In addition to the crafts, the youth learned about mental health and self-advocacy, writing essays describing what self-advocacy meant to them. 

That is an important aspect of the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre, but also, because the Afro Women and Youth Foundation was born in the wake of a racist incident in Toronto; one that involved her own daughter when they originally moved to Southern Ontario from Nigeria. 

“She experienced anti-black racism in the school system for two years and she didn't get the support that she was supposed to get,” said Afro Women and Youth Foundation founder, Adebola Adefioye, of her time before settling in Sudbury. 

Adefioye spoke to everyone she could at the school, but was told there was nothing that could be done.  “We taught her how to self advocate and she learned to speak up for herself. She learned to ask questions, she learned to tell people that it's okay not to like me, but you have to be respectful.” 

It made a difference, a big difference, said Adefioye.  

Her daughter’s torment began in grade three. By grade five, Adefioye’s daughter was named most confident in class. “I decided to start the Afro Women and Youth Foundation to help other women and youth to learn self advocacy, and leadership skills,” said Adefioye. 

Adefioye won the Premier's Award for her work helping new immigrants to Canada stand up to racial discrimination. The foundation’s goals are to empower and mentor new immigrants and refugees to Canada, and help women and youth of African origin through advocacy and capacity building programs.

Organizers said they plan to apply for more funding to continue the program.

That’s music to the ears of participants like Oluwatomia Ogunleye and Chimdinma Kingsley-Emereuwa, who both won prizes for their essays on self-advocacy. 

“For me self-advocacy means voicing your opinions,” said Ogunleye. “You don't care what's going to happen, you just know that you want to be heard. You don’t want your opinion to go unnoticed. And I do that a lot, especially in school; I'm known for always voicing what I want people to hear about me,” she said with a laugh. 

For Kingsley-Emereuwa, self advocacy means standing up and speaking up, for yourself, and those who have a quiet voice. “Don't move an inch. Don't be shaken by what the world thinks about you. Listen to me or not, you're free to walk out,” she said. “I'm doing this for my little sisters because they are shy, because this is why society has made us.  I hope that we'll be doing this for the younger ones here.

Kingsley-Emereuwa said that in her previous work as both  a writer and spoken artist, there are some who have demanded she write about a topic other than race. 

“It doesn't always have to be about race or being black here, they say,” she said.  “Like, that's what my entire existence here is about.”

Organizers are keen to run the program once again and are hoping for funding, and Kingsley-Emereuwa is advocating for something more. 

“We don’t have and would like to have a space for Black youth ages 9-16,” she said. “We don’t have that chance, other than playdates, for us all to come together, even after school, to have fun with good friends, a place to go for all of us.” 

For more information about the Afro Women and Youth Foundation, click here


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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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