Youth in the News | Ontario Launches Ontario Black Youth Action Plan
by Uzo Anucha, MSW, PhD
Provinical Academic Director, YouthREX
Associate Professor, School of Social Work
“I want black youth in this province to know that their lives matter.”
- Hon. Michael Coteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism
After decades of persistent and untiring advocacy by community stakeholders, the Ontario Government launched a 3-year Anti-Racism Strategy: A Better Way Forward on March 07, 2017. As part of this strategy, the Ontario Government also announced the launch of the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan (OBYAP)– a four-year $47-million action plan that will broadly tackle the barriers that Black youth in Ontario experience and reduce these disparities to help them succeed.
In launching the OBYAP, the Honourable Minister for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, Michael Coteau said, “I want black youth in this province to know that their lives matter”. The Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange commends the Ontario Government for recognizing and acknowledging what research has consistently shown:
“Black youth in Ontario continue to experience disproportionately negative outcomes, including unemployment, violence and a lack of opportunity” (A Better Way Forward).
Co-existing with the well documented disparities of outcomes for Black youth is a long history of the construction of Black youth as troubled and troubling. This construction is rooted in conceptions of Black people as ‘problems,’ as W.E.B DuBois (1903) pointed out in The Souls of Black Folks. He writes:
“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it…all, nevertheless, flutter round it…how does it feel to be a problem?”
“How does it feel to be a problem?”
Although DuBois poses this question in the 20th century within the context of African Americans and their challenges to be accepted as full humans with full rights, his words are still very relevant to current discourses in 21st century Canada and United States of America. These discourses construct Black youth as ‘problems’ and dangerous to society.
This devaluing of Black youth as disposable, as lives that don’t matter has devastating consequences on Black youth who experience anti-Black discriminatory and racist practices such as police profiling and brutality and zero tolerance policies in schools that lead to higher rates of expulsions and suspensions, overrepresentation of Black youth within the child welfare system, poorer school outcomes and poorer mental health outcomes.
Black youth in Ontario have a four times more higher jail admissions rate when compared to their White counterparts (Toronto Star, 2013) and are stopped by the police 2.5 more times when compared to White males (Toronto Star, 2010). Although Black students only account for 12 percent of students in Toronto Public schools, they represent more than 31 percent of all suspensions (Toronto District School Board, 2006).
Such troubling disparities are why the OBYAP and Ontario’s commitment to policies and practices that can reframe the negative discourses about Black youth from a “problems and problem-makers” to “I want black youth in this province to know that their lives matter” must be fully embraced and supported by all Ontarians who are on the side of social justice and equity.
The OBYAP must engage and involve Black youth in the development and implementation of the plan, as this is crucial for creating a sustained effort and legacy. Black youth as having a stake in, and the skills and experience to contribute to the issues that impact their daily lives is an important way to resist the stigma associated with ‘Black youth at risk’, a stigma that wrongly and violently tell a single story of Black youth in media and public discourses.
Black youth-centered initiatives challenge the discrimination, power structures and unfair resource distribution and provide a space for questioning the reproduction of systems and ideology that have negatively impacted their lives and communities. Youth have a very unique voice, and they are finding imaginative and creative ways of telling new stories, participating in political activity, responding to complex social problems, and advocating for change. By participating in their community, youth create change on a personal level, while impacting the world around them.
YouthREX is fully committed to supporting the implementation of the OBYAP so that programs and services for Black youth in Ontario can be built on the best available knowledge and evidence from research, practice and lived experiences. As today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, we encourage you to explore the resources on Black youth wellbeing in the 'Learn More' section below where we've curated a number of reports, toolkits, research summaries and more.
Launched in December 2014, YouthREX builds on the work of Ontario’s Youth Opportunity Strategy (2006) and Youth Action Plan (2012) by supporting the youth sector’s capacity to measure and understand program impact. YouthREX’s mandate is focused on grassroots and youth-led organizations especially those serving racialised youth, newcomer youth, Aboriginal youth, youth with disabilities or special needs, youth in and leaving care, Francophone youth, LGBTTQ youth, youth living in rural & remote communities, youth from low-income families and youth in conflict with the law. YouthREX’s vision is an Ontario where shared knowledge is transformed into positive impact for all youth. The mission is to make research evidence and evaluation practices accessible and relevant to Ontario’s grassroots youth sector through capacity building, knowledge mobilization and evaluation leadership.