The Young Black Women’s Project Summary In the fall of 2017, young Black women hailing from across the Peel Region were invited to take part in the Young Black Women’s Project, a leadership program that encourages participants to explore issues affecting health and well-being through facilitated discussions, expert presentations, and creative, communications and arts-based activities. Weekly workshops focused on racism, mental health, sex and relationships, body and self-image, and leadership. Classes were led by a talented roster of community mentors, who shared insights gleaned from personal experience while skillfully guiding participants through sometimesdelicate subject matter. Participants in the Young Black Women’s Project took part in a public speaking workshop led by a local television host, story-boarding activities and expressive painting with a talented visual artist, and a creative writing workshop facilitated by a New York Times best-selling author, among many others. Participants forged bonds quickly, both with one another and with the community mentors who facilitated group discussions. The supportive group dynamic helped to foster an open atmosphere, emboldening group members to freely communicate their ideas around tough subjects like sex and racism. With the help of a variety of creative mediums, group members shared thoughts and opinions that had hitherto gone unexplored. The project has produced a cohort of highly-engaged young, Black, women leaders, who are encouraged to take full advantage of mentorship opportunities within the wider community. They are better equipped to navigate adverse circumstances, and serve as “Resilience Coaches” in their social spheres and communities. Graduates of the program have gone on to volunteer opportunities within our agency and other community organizations. Many graduates of the program have committed to leading future iterations of the project, as members of the Young Black Women’s Project Advisory Committee.
Background The Young Black Women’s Project arose as a result of the findings of Peel HIV/AIDS Network (PHAN)’s Young Black Women’s Project forum, a community-based event exploring issues impacting the health and wellbeing of young Black women. In this forum, participants cited a lack of opportunities and spaces to explore critical issues affecting the lives and wellbeing of young Black women in Brampton and Caledon, such as race, relationships, community building, and inclusion. Our response, The Young Black Women’s Project, creates opportunities for young Black women to come together in a safe space to explore issues that impact self esteem, connection to community, and a sense of place in history, contributing to individual and collective resilience. With the support of a faculty of advisors including peer volunteers, community leaders, and seasoned facilitators, participants take part in a series of discussion forums, interactive learning opportunities, and workshops aimed at enhancing tools of self expression. The program explores the changing circumstances in which Black women find themselves, facilitating the transferal of intergenerational wisdom.
Goals 1.) Address the need for spaces that exist to foster the meaningful engagement of Black women, in which information is shared and diversities of experience are valued. 2.) Facilitate mentorship opportunities and intergenerational dialogue, strengthening community connections and support networks. Participants come to better understand and define their experiences and identities and explore diverse methods of navigating adverse circumstances. 3.) Hone tools of self expression and leadership capabilities, empowering young Black women to serve as effective leaders in their social networks and wider communities. Skillsbuilding workshop modules focused on various modes of communication explore issues that impact the wellbeing of young Black women. Participants gain increased confidence to communicate, advocate, and negotiate for personal and community health. The project aims to foster the development of a self-sustaining network of Black women in Brampton and Caledon. These communities benefit from the creation of safe spaces, and supportive social networks, in which Black women are empowered to share experiences and exchange knowledge.
Project Outcomes to Date Project Outcome 1) Create ‘safe,’ ethical spaces for young Black women to explore issues affecting their wellbeing. To Date:
A fully functional website, ybwproject.com, (with interactive group forum) was launched in September, 2017. A series of eight workshops ran September- November, 2017.
Project Outcome 2) Foster open intergenerational dialogue about issues of special interest to Black women, including trauma, race, identity, relationships, and strategies for navigating adverse circumstances. To Date:
A series of eight workshops ran from September- November, 2017. The workshops were led by seasoned facilitators and Peel-based creatives, who employed multiple arts-based approaches to foster open dialogue around pre-selected themes. A world café model was used to validate the relevance of pre-selected themes, which included: leadership, mental health, body/self image, and sex and relationships. Participant feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with both presenters and multiple participants indicating a strong interest in contributing to the project’s continued success.
Project Outcome 3) Facilitate mentorship relationships, and forge lasting community connections. To Date:
An Advisory Committee has been assembled, with plans to oversee and coordinate future workshops and events. Advisory committee members include graduates of our first workshop series (held September-November 2017), in addition to leaders from across all sectors, with a bestselling author, educator, social workers, and life coach/psychotherapist among them.
Project Outcome 4.) Encourage the empowerment of young Black women by providing opportunities to refine written and verbal communication skills and leadership abilities. Participants will take part in skills-building activities that will embolden them to share personal
stories of resilience using a variety of techniques (including creative writing, verse, songwriting, and verbal presentations). To Date: Multiple skills-building workshops encouraged project participants to explore and refine skills with diverse methods of story-telling and self-expression. Skills-building workshops included: •
Slay the Mic public speaking program
Free expression painting
Free verse poetry/song-writing
Community Context There are a number of discernable gaps in the service offerings available to young Black women residing in Brampton and Caledon. This deficit was one of the key findings to emerge from the Young Black Women’s Project forum, and was further underscored at the African Caribbean Black Sexual Health Summit. This project builds directly upon the suggestions of clients and community members, and in so doing uniquely addresses the needs of these communities. PHAN has a number of new and long-standing partnerships with disparate groups working towards similar ends in the region. These include the Black Community Action Network, Reachout Committee, United Achievers, and African and Caribbean Council on HIVAIDS in Ontario (ACCHO). We leverage these connections and coordinate our efforts where necessary in order to ensure optimal outcomes for the project. Moving forward, we will continue to consult, and work in tandem, with external agencies during the planning, recruitment, promotion, and execution phases of the project.
YBW Project Compilation “The Young Black Women's Project will stay with me for the rest of my journey.” -Vanessa Spence Written participant contributions provided content for a publication that distills the outcomes of the exercises, affording insight into the experiences of young Black women in Canada on the 150th anniversary of the country’s confederation. This compilation of works, Journal of a Young Black Woman, is meant to celebrate, inspire, and encourage young black women from all walks of life. Journal of a Young Black Woman gives voice to distinct communities of Canadians, in the spirit of the commonly held Canadian values of diversity and inclusion. Amplifying the voices of diverse community members adds depth to our collective understanding of the Canadian experience.
Links 1.) 1.) Brampton Guardian/Mississauga News feature: “Workshop series for Black women in Peel looks beyond tiresome stereotypes.” (featured online and in print publications) 2.) Workshop flyer, course syllabus, and sample workshop agendas, certificate from MP
Harinder Malhi available at: https://drive.google.com/open? id=1bF3F2UK91aEkSAkMWm-t9UUHjRvhn-m2 3.) Photos available here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1bF3F2UK91aEkSAkMWm-
t9UUHjRvhn-m2 4.) Young Black Women’s project website: https://www.ybwproject.com
Pilot Project Photos (September- December 2017)