A $47 million investment in Black youth

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, Michael Coteau, have provided solid evidence that they understand the relevance of the popular saying “action speaks louder than words”.

The action announced last week by Minister Coteau is ground-breaking: the provincial government has decided to allocate $47 million for a four-year Black Youth Action Plan.

This represents a concrete investment in the future of a vulnerable segment of our province’s youth population. It recognizes the urgent need to take preventative and corrective action to address the clearly identified indicators of the vulnerability of Black youth to the challenges and perils of today’s world.

Such indicators serve to evaluate the worryingly precarious situation of the Black community in comparison with other ethnic and racial communities in Canada.

Using that comparative approach in the field of education, one is appalled at the disproportionate number of Black youth who are underperforming in the school system.

Based on that same principle of our proportional numbers, Black youth are too highly represented among the persons who are subjected to the processes of the four main components of Canada’s justice system: the police; the courts; the jails and the detention centres and the parole and probation departments.

In the Children’s Aid institutions, Black children have been shown to be noticeably disadvantaged, both by their disproportionate numbers in the system and by the unsuccessful outcomes that they experience there.

Furthermore, it is equally unfortunate that unemployment among black youth is significantly higher than the already alarming national average of youth unemployment.

And given the stigma attached to mental health challenges, the Black community is especially vulnerable as a direct result of anti-Black racism and of the oppressive effects of unequal opportunity and unequal access to the support mechanisms that are available.

From that broader perspective of access to opportunity and to available supports, the identity and motivation challenges of the “marginalized” Black male have been recognized as a major social issue requiring targeted attention.

The gravity of the Black community’s comparative disadvantage raises an obvious question. What strategy, in the opinion of this same community, should be applied to address that multi-faceted and complex challenge?

One plausible answer came from Elias Walsh, an 18-year-old participant in the public consultations:

“I would start, to be honest, with the education system,…because that’s where the first seeds of doubt start.”

At this year’s Annual Boonoonoonos Brunch organized by the Jamaican Canadian Centre in Toronto, three probing questions kept coming up among parents and educators:

– Do Black students, especially males, not feel welcomed at school?

– Are they more encouraged to take applied rather than academic courses?

– Are there stereotypes that affect how they are treated at school?

It is also worthy of note that Ontario’s  Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter  dealt with the broader anti-racism issue as it relates to education at the same JCA event. The Minister said:

“Here in Ontario we recognize that everyone in our publicly funded system – regardless of background or personal circumstances – must feel engaged and included.”

According to Minister Hunter, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has tasked her with figuring out how to roll out race-based data collection in education across the province, in order to determine where additional supports are needed to ensure that all students, regardless of background, are able to thrive in our schools.

In November last year, this newspaper thought it important to transmit to the public a summary of the statement made at a public forum by Ms. Dalon Taylor, President of the Black Health Alliance  on the subject of the health needs of the black community:

“She said that in order to eliminate disparities in health among different racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups, all of the determinants of health where disparities have their root, must be targeted, including, racism, poverty, and violence.”

The provincial government has constantly repeated its commitment to fighting racism, inequality and poverty. These are indeed key causes of some of the major fault-lines in our society.

We not so humbly suggest two specific areas of focus.

In order for the strategy to have a meaningful impact on our Black youth, the message of racial and cultural equality should receive priority and policy attention in the curriculum and in the staffing, at all levels of our education system.

Again, for that meaningful impact to be seen and felt as tangible evidence of continuous progress, the cost of eye care and dental care must be gradually absorbed into our OHIP coverage.

As we urge Premier Wynne and her government to maintain their forward march in that direction, we take pleasure in giving them strong commendation for moving our province from words to concrete action.