Young Black Trailblazers Making a Change
By Elesha Nicholls
Poverty, violence, and a lack of resources are some of the reasons for a community to be unable to rise to their full potential. A group of young people from Queens Plate, in Rexdale, realized the need for a program for the youth and decided they would help to make a change. The Rexdale Youth Mentorship was therefore, born.
“Growing up in Queens Plate, there were summer time recreational activities but not a focus on supporting us with our goals or educational development.”
– Kwaku Agyeman, Executive Director & Program Facilitator – Rexdale Youth Mentors
Nestled between a popular casino and a now run down mall lies Toronto Community housing building, Queens Plate. The community consists of mainly Black people from the Caribbean, and west and east Africa. The community is geographically situated in a very middle class area, with high-rise condominiums and townhomes lining the stretch of road.
Though it may look like it’s a part of a bigger and thriving community, the people within Queens Plate are almost isolated from the rest of their counterparts that live in the other low-income housing communities within Rexdale. This has played a huge factor in the inception of Rexdale Youth Mentorship. When putting the team together, Agyeman saw fit that his team would consist of people he grew up with; who faced similar barriers and prejudice that the current youth face on an everyday basis. He wanted to give his team members an opportunity at not only employment, but also a way in which to give back to their community.
“When there’s less structure and support in your life, you could find yourself in the wrong crowd. We try to hone in on skills that will help youth interact, become leaders, and pursue something that they want to do.” - David Anderson, Associate Director & Program Facilitator - Rexdale Youth Mentors
Created by Queen’s Plate native, Kwaku Agyeman in 2019, the 25-week program creates safe spaces for underprivileged youth, while pairing the youth with qualified mentors who work one on one to provide support, and facilitate after school programs like interactive workshops, and book and homework clubs. Another huge aspect of RXYM is to help youth with job readiness and finding employment with resources such as the employment workshop, and a mailing list to receive job and volunteer opportunities.
“A lot of the youth that we work with, aren’t aware of social disparities that they may be going through on an everyday basis. They can’t really define it or express fully what they’ve experienced. Us being able to bridge that gap allows them to see barriers and call it what it is” - Abba Wie-Addo, Director of Administration & Social Media Strategist, Rexdale Youth Mentors
The program believes in representation and the team prides themselves on connecting youth with people that not only look like them, but who have faced similar struggles in the past and have found a way to overcome them. With thoughtful consideration put into what these youths really need, the team curate’s workshops on topics and subject matter such as mental health or overcoming adversities and financial literacy, topics that perhaps these youth have little to no knowledge of. With the program inviting Black professionals in to the space to share their expertise and knowledge on these subjects, it creates a healthy dialogue that Black people are major contributors to society and that these youths can one day contribute to their community and to society as well.
“It’s important to expose the youth to Black professionals so that they can see it and believe it. Growing up I didn’t see any Black people pursuing professional ventures, they were more or less doing stereotypical things. “- Bobby Lewis, Youth Program Coordinator & Program Facilitator, Rexdale Youth Mentors
The city recently awarded the program with a City of Toronto grant, which will allow them to expand into highschools and a community centre for in-house workshops. Networking and building community relationships has helped the team secure these opportunities. They say they owe the success of the program so far, to doing much needed groundwork and recognizing the needs of the community.
“Once you recognize the areas of improvement, you’re able to now work towards solving them and addressing them. We all have the ability to do this in Toronto as young people. There is an abundance of resources that can help you meet your goals.” Kwaku Agyeman, Executive Director & Program Facilitator, Rexdale Youth Mentors
The future of Rexdale Youth Mentors is a bright one. Currently a grassroots organization, they hope to become incorporated one day and make even bigger moves within their community and the city.