Young Edmontonians of African heritage who are being released from jail, fleeing domestic violence or getting off the streets now have a culturally appropriate place where they can rebuild their lives.
The stabilization home offers a place to live and around-the-clock care, to help young people move past chronic homelessness, historical trauma, systemic racism, mental health and substance-use challenges, said Dunia Nur, president of the African-Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC).
“It’s rooted in relationship. It’s rooted in community. It’s rooted in healing. It’s rooted in accountability — so that’s what helps a lot of these youth heal,” said Nur.
By working from an Afrocentric perspective, the program helps participants reconnect with their culture and family, heal from trauma, complete their studies and enter the workforce to become productive members of the community, she said.
“When they do go through barriers, just having someone that they could talk to with a cup of tea. That’s what’s been missing,” she said.
“It’s humanizing youth [who] are the best and the brightest of our community, that never had the opportunity to just receive the basic support that they should have.”
ACCEC, a national organization based in Edmonton, launched the program in May.
The program connects youth to Black doctors, psychologists and mentors, and is believed to be the first of its kind in Alberta.
The initiative draws on African-based wisdom traditions: sankofa, a word from Ghana’s Akan language that means people must return to their roots to move forward; and ubuntu, a South African philosophy that says “I am because you are.”
YESS supervisor Alice Mwemera says youth hostel is an amazing collaboration of staff and youth from all different backgrounds.
“That’s where the conversation begins,” Nur said. “Who am I? Where am I from? We speak about purpose. We speak about values.”
The facility has four beds but Nur hopes to expand and accommodate several young women waiting for placement.
Funded by a one-time provincial grant, Nur said the program couldn’t afford to rent its own space. Instead, the agency collaborated with the Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS), which has opened a transitional housing facility with a grant from Homeward Trust.
Part of what makes the initiative so special was the care taken to hire a diverse staff, said YESS cohort supervisor Alice Mwemera.
“You start to see this amazing community collaboration of staff and youth from so many different walks of life being like, ‘Hey, we can be safe and vulnerable here.’ So instead, I can get to know you as a person and you can get to know me. How cool is that?”
Fuad Yusuf was helped by ACCEC in 2019 after being charged with drinking and driving and criminal flight.
He said he’d spent 18 months “without a hope” in the Edmonton Remand Centre — with no criminal record and awaiting trial. He was ultimately found not guilty.
It was only when ACCEC intervened and prepared a special report about the systemic factors impacting his life, he was released into the custody of Rising Above, a sober-living facility in Grande Prairie, Alta., where he spent eight months.
Yusuf believes he could have been out of jail much sooner — working and raising his daughters as he’s doing now — if the stabilization program had been in existence.
“A lot of innocent kids that are in jail right now, especially Black innocent kids, need help,” he said. “With this program, they have a shot because if I did it, they can do it.”