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Black History Month – How Samantha Adebiyi is empowering the next generation of Black youth through the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s Black Achievers mentorship program

February 9, 2022

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Launched in 2021, the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s Black Achievers Mentorship program was created to broaden horizons and increase support for Black youth by providing the opportunity to develop socially and academically with the support of Black mentors and role models.

As longstanding partners with the YMCA through both the Ted Rogers Community Grants and employee volunteer opportunities, we were excited to sit down last year with Garth Neilson, Senior General Manager of the YMCA of Greater Toronto and Samantha Adebiyi, Program Coordinator, to learn more about this unique program and the positive impact they hoped to have on their community.

In celebration of Black History Month, we caught up Samantha to learn more about how the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s Black Achievers mentorship program continues to inspire and empower youth to reach their full potential while building meaningful connections with their mentors.

The YMCA of Greater Toronto’s Black Achievers mentorship program is designed to empower Black youth to reach their full potential by providing them with opportunities to grow academically and socially with the support of Black mentors and role models. What inspired the creation of this program?

There are several factors that inspired the creation of the Black Achievers Program, the main one being the need for Black representation in our community.

Representation gives our youth the opportunity to see themselves positively through the experiences, growth, and accomplishments of professionals who looks like them, and who have similar lived experiences as them. It allows our youth to be proud of their culture as Black people and supports generational wealth.

As well, representation empowers youth to believe that they are enough as they are, and that with focus, hard work and the belief in themselves, they can achieve their goals.

At the heart of the Black Achievers program is mentorship. Why do you believe mentorship is so critical to building a stronger Canada and empowering the next generation of Black youth?

Any form of mentorship is impactful to the individuals involved (mentor/mentee) and to the community they live in. It provides an opportunity to learn from one another and promotes growth and positive change. So, mentorship is critical to Canada, because it ensures that we can develop and maintain a stronger economy and a country that is full of innovators, creative thinkers, and forward-thinking leaders.

[pullquote: My message to our next generation of Black Canadians is don’t let the challenges you’re facing and what you see happening around you discourage you – stay courageous.]

Mentorship is also critical in empowering the next generation of Black youth. Research shows that positive racial identity is strongly associated with higher motivation both academically and professionally, and this is what the Black Achievers mentoring program at the YMCA is doing – making way for our future Black doctors, educators, engineers, etc. This program is providing them with knowledge and a sense of value that will positively impact their lives.

How have you seen this program impact and shape both the mentors and youth?

The Black Achievers’ program has allowed our mentors to connect on a personal level with our youth, so that they feel a sense of self-worth and are engaged to be a part of the change by supporting our youths with knowledge, skills, resources, love and support. Our mentors are committed and passionate about paving the way for our younger generation.

The Black Achievers Program has empowered our Black youth with their self-esteem and confidence. Their grades are improving, positive relationships and friendships are forming, and dreams are no longer just a thought, but a reality.

The events from the last year have sparked worldwide dialogue on the perpetuation of racial injustices experienced by the Black community. How have these conversations impacted you and what words of inspiration would you say to the next generation of Black Canadians? 

The issue of systemic injustice and racism has deep historical roots, not only in the United States, but here in Canada. These acts of racial injustices experienced by the Black community are real and we as a country must act. Having these conversations are important.

For me, it is never easy to listen or participate in conversations of racial injustices towards Black people, because of my own experiences, self-awareness, and where I stand in society. These conversations for me, sometimes generate anger, frustration and defensiveness. On the other hand, they also motivate and empower me to not sit around and wait for change, but to be part of the work to create change.

The Black Achievers program is part of that change, because it provides our Black youth with knowledge, skills, values, hope and courage, to navigate the system, work towards their goals and be responsible leaders in our society.

My message to our next generation of Black Canadians is don’t let the challenges you’re facing and what you see happening around you discourage you – stay courageous.

No matter what others may think or say about you, know that you are beautiful and that your live matters.