Last Friday, I attended an event on campus called “Working For Change”, which was open to all students at UofT. It was about social justice, working in the nonprofit sector, and forming meaningful connections with people interested in or already established in the field.
The event began with introductions and then listening to the keynote speaker who was Syrus Marcus Ware, an activist and artist who has extensive experience with activism of various forms. They spoke about their personal experiences that led them to get involved with activism and then they proceeded to talk about how to make meaningful change actually happen. They encouraged all of us to “stay on the battlefield” and remain vigilant about speaking up about social justice and equity issues. Syrus also emphasized the importance of community and said that people who “work for change” through activism should develop a strong kinship with each other by eating together, making art together, and engaging in conversation to stay motivated and keep sight of what’s important.
After the opening session, there were a series of panels covering a diverse range of topics, namely Youth Empowerment, Food Sovereignty & Sustainability, Poverty Reduction & Shelter, Community Health, Migrants, Refugees & Newcomers, and LGBTQI2SA + Activism and Advocacy. A lot of these were extremely intriguing to me, but due to time constraints and also the fact that some panels were occurring simultaneously, I decided to attend the Youth Empowerment panel.
This panel was led by Augustine Obeng (Pathways to Education), Adonis Huggins (Regent Park Focus), and Julia Myer (Plan International Canada). Each of these panelists discussed how they got involved into their work and then went on to explain what their organizations focused on. It was really interesting to hear about their unique stories and how their childhoods and educational experiences propelled them into doing the great work they do today. These were some really important points that I took away from this particular panel overall:
-Change starts at the ground level. It starts with smaller communities and it is only through their vigilance that powerful change can occur at a higher governmental level
-If you really care about something, you have to be willing to put yourself on the line and give it all you have. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, but it makes you grow stronger and increases the possibility for real change to happen in a community
-Burnouts are real! Find time for yourself, take the time to laugh and do what you can to support yourself and each other
-In terms of Youth Empowerment specifically: If you are working with children/adolescents, pay attention to their interests! Use art, music, writing, theatre, sports…etc to keep them actively engaged
I certainly learned a lot from this experience and I am inspired and pleasantly surprised to see the sheer number of UofT students, particularly in undergrad, who came out to the event and expressed a keen interest in learning about social justice, connecting with peers, and being involved.