Mentoring Black youth part of province’s action plan

When Mariama Barrie was starting her career, she received guidance and advice from a mentor at Toronto’s Nia Centre for the Arts.

And once she started her own event planning business, she began sharing her expertise with youth in the community as part of a program that was recently chosen for expansion under the Ontario government’s $47 million Ontario Black Youth Action Plan.

The plan, a provincial first, will fund agencies that support youth, aiming to help more than 10,000 Black children across the province in their communities.

Michael Coteau, minister of children and youth services, recently announced that $9 million of the funding will be spent on mentorship programs in Greater Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Windsor, over the next four years — programs that include everything from arts activities to academic help to boosting job skills.

Coteau, who is also responsible for the province’s anti-racism initiatives, said the mentoring programs are “a great example of an on-the-ground solution to help improve the futures of Black children, youth and their families.”

The province’s action plan was created in response to statistics that show Black youth are overrepresented in the care of children’s aid, are more likely to drop out of high school and face high unemployment rates.

Dwayne Dixon, executive director of the Nia Centre near Oakwood Ave. and Vaughan Rd., said “very early in my artistic journey, when I was coming up, there were very limited opportunities — financial or otherwise — for young Black artists to make the arts a viable career choice,” and he’s confident “experiences like mine will be the exception and not the rule.”

Nia not only runs programs like the one Barrie volunteered for, called the “Follow Your Instinct” internship, but also a larger program that helps budding artists job shadow professionals, take on apprenticeships and find internships.

Barrie said her connection to the Nia centre “goes way back,” after she graduated from the University of Guelph-Humber, the then-executive director helped her learn to develop her career. She said she didn’t just receive help, but also honest evaluations of her work, “critiquing it when I needed feedback,” she said.

“It was very valuable to me … it helped me develop into the professional that I am today, the entrepreneur I am today. I see the difference it makes in young people, especially in our communities.”

She later went on to found her own company, Premium Events, and also began working with four youths at Nia — the youngest about 17 — on a daily basis for eight weeks. “The group was small,” she said, and the help “very specific to their needs.”

In Peel, Marlon Pompey said he at first mentored a different groups of youth for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Peel, but a year ago began one-on-one, feeling he could have a bigger impact that way.

His “little,” who is 12, lives in his old neighbourhood, said Pompey.

“I came from that neighbourhood, I made something of myself … I got a scholarship,” said Pompey, who played basketball at university. “ … I wanted to give back.”

The two go carting, play paintball, golf and have plans to go mountain biking, added Pompey, who works in Peel Region.

“He’s a really good kid.”

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