The Black student-athlete systemic review barely scratches the surface of issues at McMaster
By: Shae-Ashleigh Owen, Contributor
CW: anti-Black racism
On June 25, 2020, McMaster University President David Farrar published a letter promising to address systemic institutional racism and any obstacles to equity and inclusion at Mac. Alongside these promises, Farrar mentioned that the university's recently released Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and 2019-2020 Action Plan will challenge anti-Black racism and support Black students and students of colour at McMaster. The letter also stated that they will finally address the underrepresentation of Black faculty members at the university.
Among their attempts to address anti-Black racism, McMaster announced a systemic review of the Black student-athlete experience, headed by Ivan Joseph. The university invited both past and present Black student-athletes to share their experiences in the athletics department.
“We still have work to do” LOL. Y’all never started shit to begin with. Start by firing Mark Alfano. How about that? I’ve experienced a lot of systemic racism during my time at McMaster. Myself and other black student athletes brought it up to Mark & Glen and they brushed us off. https://t.co/W2F37z8sCL
— Fabion (@FabionFoote) June 28, 2020
The review, which was completed on Oct. 27, found that there was a history of systemic anti-Black racism in the Department of Athletics and Recreation. As a Black student, hearing about Black students’ experiences with racism was saddening, disappointing and traumatic. However, the results of the review did not surprise me.
The review of the Black student-athlete experience in McMaster Athletics & Recreation is complete. Evidence collected during the review, which was conducted by @DrIvanJoseph of Wilfrid Laurier University, reveals a culture of systemic anti-Black racism within the department. 1/8
— McMaster University (@McMasterU) October 27, 2020
Experiences of those who participated in the review included: having a “jailbreak-themed” party where white students dressed up as criminals and wore cornrows in their hair; mentions of racial slurs used by alumni, fellow teammates and a coach; cancelling Black History Month celebrations; degrading comments based on race; there was even an accusation that a Black student-athlete was selling drugs.
In response to this, Farrar launched an Action Plan which aims to increase representation, implement advocacy roles and targeted supports and scholarships. On Oct. 29, the Department of Athletics and Recreation announced that 10 new athletic financial aid awards will be established for Black student-athletes each year.
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I want to highlight the fact that Black students are singled out based on race regardless of scholarships. According to a census conducted in February 2020, 60 per cent of Black youth expect to gain at least a bachelor’s degree in comparison to 79 per cent of other youths. The census concludes that this gap is likely due to discrimination.
Experiencing systemic racism like this is not exclusive to Black student-athletes. This includes the McMaster Students Union and academia as a whole, as these areas of student life are not exempt from anti-Black behaviours and actions. Statistics, such as the census, show that we need more scholarships for Black students at McMaster, as Black youth are statistically less likely to gain a bachelor’s degree compared to the general population. By providing scholarship opportunities, Black students will have at least one less barrier to receiving a postsecondary education.
As a Black student, hearing about Black students’ experiences with racism was saddening, disappointing and traumatic. However, the results of the review did not surprise me.
Like many other Black students, I have faced anti-Black racism during my time at Mac. My own experiences include people shuffling their bags away from me because they seem to be afraid of stealing — no, I do not want your bag nor what’s in it, thank you. I have even heard, “Oh, you speak great English,” even though English is my first language.
In class, I feel like I have to work 10 times as hard as the non-Black students just to get the same amount of respect and acknowledgement. I often get labelled as the “angry Black woman” due to my dominant personality, which I can assume my non-Black classmates do not have to worry about. I’ve heard fellow Black students talk about the subtle racism they had to face in their classes, both by classmates and even professors.
I even had to face systemic racism from the MSU when the Pride Community Centre was closed down midway through the winter 2020 semester, right after their 2SLGBTQA+ BIPOC-focused campaign which mainly highlighted Black and Indigenous 2SLGBTQA+ folks. This decision made by the 2019-2020 executive board hurt members of the BIPOC community at McMaster. As the only Black volunteer of the PCC at that time, this deeply hurt me too.
Statistics, such as the census, show that we need more scholarships for Black students at McMaster, as Black youth are statistically less likely to gain a bachelor’s degree compared to the general population.
I applaud the school community for recognizing the systemic issues that Black students face. This has resulted in clubs including the ratification of the Black Student Association and other Black-focused clubs. However, if Mac truly wants to help the Black student community, their actions need to be taken further.
Reviews of racism and oppression need to be extended towards more areas of student life, including security, club life and especially education because although we pay the same tuition as everyone else, we face more barriers in getting our degree. I would even suggest that reviews need to be extended to other minority groups as well. This is a good and important start; however, there is so much more work to be done.
Please note that this event has been postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 Virus. For more information please visit: https://accahamilton.com
Since 1979, the Afro Canadian Caribbean Association has been creating a sense of community and empowerment in the African-Canadian Caribbean community in Hamilton. Evelyn Myrie, the president of ACCA, says that even though African-Canadians have been here for hundreds of years, they are still treated as though they don’t belong in this country. On March 13-14, ACCA will be holding an event called “We Are Planted Here: Narratives in Belonging”. The event will combine art and advocacy to dismantle this assumption, establishing the right that African Canadians have to feel at home in Canada, because it is their home.
“[T]he objective of this initiative, symposium, celebration is to assert our existence and long-standing presence on these lands, on this land of Canada . . . there is still a perception [when] you're walking on the streets, there's an assumption that you are from another place. So it's really to situate our position as Canadians in various locations, to have conversations about our rich and diverse contributions to this land and to reassert our presence here . . . We're located here socially, politically and economically,” said Myrie.
Not only is the physical presence of the Black community ignored, but so too are their contributions to Canada. Myrie says that she hopes the event will help to educate people both inside and outside of the Black community about Black history in Canada. She says that many of the social and human rights that we currently have were fought for by the Black community.
“[P]eople don't know that human rights laws, housing laws, we were the ones who were the canary in the mine, because we were the ones who suffered those experiences [and fought] to change laws, immigration laws, especially; Black people were not allowed to come to Canada and it was Black people who fought against [that]. And now we have a whole slew of different people coming to Canada—and wonderfully so—racialized people, who sometimes forget or don't know that they are benefiting from the struggles of the Black community,” said Myrie.
“[P]eople don't know that human rights laws, housing laws, we were the ones who were the canary in the mine, because we were the ones who suffered those experiences [and fought] to change laws, immigration laws, especially; Black people were not allowed to come to Canada and it was Black people who fought against [that]. And now we have a whole slew of different people coming to Canada—and wonderfully so—racialized people, who sometimes forget or don't know that they are benefiting from the struggles of the Black community,”
In the early days of mining, miners are said to have brought canaries with them into mines they worked in. Canaries are more vulnerable to carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases than humans, so a dead or sick canary would alert the miners to danger. In this metaphor, Myrie is suggesting that because Black people are far more likely to experience human rights violations, it frequently and unequally falls on their shoulders to fight for social change. Because they are so unequally adversely affected, they are the first to know when laws need to be changed. They were and are the canary in the coal mine.
Myrie hopes that this event will educate attendees on the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism and the othering of Black people, and the ways that this continues to be perpetuated in Canada, and that it will also encourage allies to examine their own actions and biases, and how they can seek to call out this behaviour in their day-to-day lives. Othering is a part of colonial discourse that creates an “Us versus Them” narrative, where the dominant group becomes accepted and the marginalized group is dehumanized and made into the “Other”. This manifests itself as increased violence towards marginalized groups, and removing them from mainstream media and discourse.
“So to us, anti-Black racism is a key part of this, because it's really just like white supremacy in that it keeps knowledge away . . . So we're telling our stories, because we know that anti-Black racism has kept those stories away from curriculums,” said Myrie.
“So to us, anti-Black racism is a key part of this, because it's really just like white supremacy in that it keeps knowledge away . . . So we're telling our stories, because we know that anti-Black racism has kept those stories away from curriculums,”
“We Are Planted Here: Narratives in Belonging” is a two day symposium. On Friday, March 13, there will be an evening of art and spoken word at the ACCA Banquet Hall (754 Barton St. E), and on Saturday March 14 there will be academic and community discussions at the Hamilton Central Library (55 York Blvd.). Both events are free.
Many of us don’t need to be reminded that there’s only a few days left before exam season starts, but we might need a reminder to make time for a nice home cooked meal. It’s easy to turn to buying lunch or dinner when you’re tight on time during these next few weeks, but there are ways to make cooking an enjoyable experience while relieving some stress too.
The Sil staff have compiled their favourite recipes that are easy to make, especially when you’re short on time. We encourage you to try them out, change up the ingredients and most importantly, take the time to take care of yourself this season.
Shared by Sasha Dhesi (Managing Editor)
Pasta is a staple batch recipe since it’s fairly easy, delicious and lasts the whole work week. While most people don’t have time to make homemade pasta, students don’t have to rely on jarred sauces and compromise their time.
Making a sauce at home can seem challenging, but simple recipes like this one are great for students low on time and on a budget.
I adapted this recipe from Bon Appetit’s Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce. I replaced a few of the more expensive ingredients with more accessible, easier kept items that make more sense for students to keep around in the house. The recipe should make about four servings and take about 40 minutes, but only 20 of those minutes are active! This is a great recipe to make while studying at home — just pop the sauce into the oven and you’ll have a great sauce in no time!
Shared by Hannah Walters-Vida (Features Reporter)
In an effort to describe how good this soup is, the most a room full of Sil writers could come up with is “warm, warm soup, it hugs you from the inside”. Pretty much everyone in the office will agree that this is a great recipe for soup. I typically double the recipe and freeze the soup in mason jars for when I need a quick, filling meal.
This recipe is originally by Jennifer Segal and I made a few modifications to make it vegan friendly. This recipe yields 8 servings and takes about 45 minutes to make, but most of the time is spent letting the soup simmer. This soup can stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months, so it’s worth the investment in time. Just make sure to pop it into the fridge the day before wanting to reheat it!
Shared by Razan Samara (Arts & Culture Editor)
This is my go-to recipe for dinner with friends and potlucks. It also makes for a perfect side dish alongside lunch or dinner, I personally think it pairs really well with chicken tawook tacos and panko-breaded fish. This recipe yields about 3-4 servings and was inspired by Cookie and Kate.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself become quite reliant on this recipe. It requires minimal effort, which means I can throw a whole batch together pretty quickly the night before my early morning commutes. This recipe has filling ingredients, can easily travel and can be modified to meet your taste preferences. I encourage you to keep things new and interesting with every rendition of the dish!
By: Drew Simpson
On Feb. 26, the Green is not White environmental racism workshop took place at the Hamilton Public Library’s Wentworth room. The free, open-to all workshop, garnered intrigue from attendees interested in learning about environmental racism.
Presenters sat on a raised platform and the room was filled with chart easel pads, activist posters and resources. The Green is Not White workshop, which is organized by Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces in partnership with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion started its seven-hour agenda with a land acknowledgement, icebreakers and then laid down foundational knowledge.
Environmental racism is originally defined by Prof. Benjamin Chavis as the racial discrimination and unequal enforcement of environmental policies. The types of environmental racism have expanded since this 1987 definition and currently encompass air pollution, clean water, climate migration, extreme weather, food production, gentrification and toxins in the community and workplace.
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The crust of the issue is that ethnic minorities are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards. Black and Indigenous populations are most affected by environmental racism, yet this makes it no less of a collective issue. Local case studies were highlighted to drive this message close to home.
For example, most of Hamilton’s waste facilities are clustered just north of and within residential areas. This includes a proposed electronic waste processing facility, which can cause lead and mercury exposure, and an existing chemical wastes facility that is known for chemical explosions causing evacuations and serious injury. Loads of biosolids have been trucked through neighbourhoods posing disease risks from pathogens, concerns of terrible odours and ammonia use for steam filtering.
Studies show that Hamilton neighbourhoods with single-parent families and low education are the most exposed to air pollution. Since these neighbourhoods have fewer resources and are systematically marginalized, they are targeted by acts of environmental racism. The hashtag #EnvRacismCBTUACW continually discusses case studies across Canada.
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Along with the extensive examples of Canadians and Hamiltonians living in dire conditions due to environmental racism, as well as the government’s oversight of this issue, various Hamilton organizations have taken it upon themselves to drive change.
This workshop was the third part of a four-phase action research initiative on environmental racism by ACW, which develops tools to better the environmental conditions of jobs and the workplace and CBTU, a coalition that breaks the silence on African-Canadians’ labour issues. While this third stage involves community engagement, the fourth and final stage involves a joint report and video that will be housed on both the ACW and CBTU websites.
The slogan “Green is Not White” highlights that green jobs and environmentally safe conditions should not be reserved for white people. People of colour are most likely to work and live in dire conditions, and therefore deserve economic justice and access to clean water and land.
By: Jackie McNeill
Tottering Biped Theatre, a Hamilton-based theatre company founded by Trevor Copp, has reached over 600,000 views on a TED Talk about ‘liquid lead dancing,’ a gender neutral form of partner dancing.
Several McMaster alumni are involved in the theatre company, particularly with their summer Shakespeare work held at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The theatre is social justice-focused, devising works that have addressed issues like poverty, same sex marriage and mental health and different interpretations of Shakespeare.
However, as prominent as the theatre’s work is, it is not what Copp is arguably best known for.
In 2015, he and his colleague Jeff Fox delivered a TED Talk in Montreal on a dance concept they developed called ‘liquid lead dancing.’
Liquid lead dancing, a form of gender neutral partner dance, was born out of Copp’s discomfort with the systems and rules he was perpetuating as a ballroom dance teacher.
As explained in their TED Talk, the strictly gendered partner dancing promotes a relationship shaped by dictation, where the man leads and the woman follows.
He and Fox developed liquid lead dancing to turn this dictation into a negotiation.
“It proposes a system where lead and follow are exchanged throughout the course of the dance regardless of gender,” Copp explained.
This change of form will hopefully become normalized as a dance and help to normalize healthy relationships outside of partner dance as well.
The liquid lead dance between Copp and Fox morphed into a play about creating the first dance for a same sex wedding.
After a successful run of the play, a former student contacted Copp about presenting their dance form as a TED talk.
Copp and Fox’s TED talk was picked up by TED.com, and has over 600,00 views to date.
Despite the success of the TED talk, Copp admits that it has not been all smooth sailing promoting liquid lead dancing.
“Most people are comfortable with their given role, and, even though they aren't particularly traditional in their thinking, allow it to decide their roles as dancers. There's comfort in the familiar. I don't begrudge it at all. I just think that if you're going to recreate a culturally outdated form you should be conscious of it by making a choice to do so as opposed to sleepwalking your way through the dance form.”
Acknowledging that the work he had done with liquid lead dance is not that well-known in Hamilton, Copp is aiming to work harder at spreading the dance form in the future.
As explained in the TED Talk, liquid lead dancing is not about dance alone.
By addressing the strict roles perpetuated in partner dancing, Copp and Fox have begun to address the erasure of non-binary people and same-sex couples in dance, in addition to the exclusion of Black, Asian and other non-white bodies.
By bringing these issues that are prevalent within ballroom and partner dance to a wider audience with the TED Talk and Copp’s theatre company, the same issues that are prevalent in everyday life stand a better chance at being addressed.
Copp has performed liquid lead dance at conferences throughout Ontario, New York and Ireland and is looking forward to next presenting at a conference on consent and sexuality with Planned Parenthood in Virginia.
By: Areej Ali
Nu Omega Zeta is a Black-focused sorority at McMaster that aims to support and enrich the Black community on campus and in Hamilton.
While the sorority was founded in September 2011, plans to launch Nu Omega Zeta were in the works months before the sorority’s founding date.
The seven Nu Omega Zeta founders first looked to Black Greek organizations in the United States, which provided a good perspective on how they should establish their own chapter.
For instance, today, the sorority pairs up new members with a ‘Big Sister’ who provides guidance and support.
The founding members first looked for an executive board and then created the symbols, guidelines and pillars that the sorority would stand for.
According to Eno Antai, the current president of Nu Omega Zeta, members do not need to identify as Black in order to join the sorority.
Nevertheless, the group is Black-focused, aspiring to “promote the growth and enrichment of Black undergraduate students and to enhance their education through the strengthening of the relationships within the Black community.”
In particular, Nu Omega Zeta stands for “Sisterhood, Volunteerism and Knowledge.”
Over the few years, members of the sorority have volunteered at Empowerment Squared, a Hamilton-based charity that seeks to empower marginalized and newcomer communities in Hamilton.
The sorority also runs campus events such as “Chance on Campus,” a one-day event that gives grade 10 and 11 students the opportunity to experience post-secondary life at McMaster and learn about the university’s organizations and academic and financial resources.
“When I look back and think why I wanted to join Nu Omega Zeta, I remember feeling very isolated and alone on campus in my first year,” said Gabriela Roberta, a member of the sorority.
“I had no intentions of joining a sorority. However, Nu Omega Zeta was the first and only organization to reach out to me and make me feel as though my fears are not only my own,” said Roberts.
Roberts added that the sorority immersed her in a community of women that truly understood her struggles and concerns.
She strongly feels that Nu Omega Zeta has been a transformative life experience.
For Jet'aime Fray, another member of Nu Omega Zeta, the sorority means sisterhood. Fray explains that the sorority has allowed for her to create long lasting friendships and has given her a unique opportunity to volunteer in Hamilton.
“In a society that refuses to acknowledge Black women, having a space that allows you to be unapologetically who you are and celebrates you is very needed,” said Antai, who feels that the space Nu Omega Zeta provides to acknowledge Black women is much needed and can give many students a home away from home.
Julianne Providence joined Nu Omega Zeta for precisely this reason.
“I saw it as a space where I could belong. I had seen the ladies on campus and admired the connections they had with each other,” said Providence.
Omega Zeta hosts a number of initiatives throughout the year, including rush events, parties, relationship summits, workshops, networking events about education and support in the Black community and a ‘World AIDS Day’ panel discussion.
By: Eden Wondmeneh
As a first-year student in social sciences, the bulk of my tutorial grade is determined by my participation in discussions. For someone who would rather be restricted to eating at Centro than be forced to speak in public, tutorials are not my ideal environment.
As the fall semester progressed, I noticed that some of these discussions supported learning while others were downright problematic. Speaking to other students in social sciences, specifically students of colour, it was clear that teaching assistants, who greatly influenced whether tutorial discussions were the former or the latter, were overwhelmingly white.
The lack of diversity in TAs is often juxtaposed with a somewhat diverse student group — where students of colour bond over the shared discomfort or hilarity of the awkwardness that settles across the room anytime a ‘hot topic’ like white privilege is brought up.
Discussions about race are often excluded from acceptable topics in an environment that claims to encourage academic discourse, especially when initiated by a person of colour: a fact that aided in my decision to stay relatively quiet in tutorials.
Regardless of their intentions, these TAs are in a position of power where they facilitate discussions about systems of oppression that they themselves benefit from and resultantly teach students through this narrow-privileged lens. If topics of race are not dismissed after a moment of awkward silence, they always seem condescending; what qualifies non-POC TAs to lead these discussions?
I have a friend whose TA explained how common sense differs between cultures using a blatantly racist analogy of African children never having seen a stove thus not knowing that it is unsafe to touch. When called out for their ignorance, the TA’s response was some variation of, “I’m not racist”.
The Teaching in an Accessible and Inclusive Community section of McMaster University’s 2013 TA guide shows that the diversity and inclusion issue in tutorial sessions is much worse than it appears. The university is aware of the power imbalances that are inherent to the limited diversity amongst TAs — they just aren’t doing anything about it.
Despite their ability to recognize that acknowledgment of systemic racism is not enough to let them off the hook, they boldly state that McMaster staff and faculty work “against often invisible systems of privilege and oppression,” without giving TAs any guidance in how to further this effort within their own tutorials. In fact, the guidebook makes it clear that it is naïve to believe that even a well-intentioned TA could use any tips provided to create an equitable space within their tutorials.
To be clear, I don’t think that TAs are intentionally leading their tutorials to isolate students of colour and validate the dominant privileged narrative that exists within our society. I do believe though that the hiring process for TAs is flawed, as it works directly against McMaster’s “fight against invisible systems of privilege and oppression”.
There should be a great number of Black TAs who are able to lead tutorials with a different perspective, engage with Black students and have important conversations about race when the course calls for it.
Aside from increasing the diversity amongst TAs, there should be mandatory anti-oppression workshops and training. It is unrealistic to hope that TAs will suddenly diversify, but it is not unrealistic to hope that current TAs have an understanding of their bias and are able to react to being called out productively — not through cries of, “I am not racist”.
For myself to feel comfortable to contribute freely within these tutorials, I need there to be measures in place for the inevitable awkwardness that ensues when race is discussed and a guarantee that Black children won't be used in racist examples.
We don't live within a vacuum. To create the “inclusive and accessible learning environment” that McMaster desires, TAs need to reflect this inclusivity and accessibility students are meant to find.
By: Maryanne Oketch
One of the reasons I chose to enrol at McMaster University was for the diversity that the school claimed to offer. Coming from a predominantly white secondary school, I was excited to attend a new school. I was hopeful that I would make connections within my program and maybe gain a support system consisting of people that could relate to the experience of being Black in academia.
When I entered the integrated science program in 2016, I was disheartened to realize that in my year of entry, I was the only student in my program that was Black, alongside two other individuals with mixed backgrounds. Within the week, this dropped to two, as one person switched out. Within the month, it then became clear that the two of us were not just the only Black students in our year, but in the whole four-year program.
This lack of Black peers created a feeling that I had to be the best of the best, and when I couldn’t reach that goal, I would withdraw rather than reaching out. This caused damage to my grades, reputation and relationships with my peers.
It is a well-known fact that there is a disparity between the Black population and our representation in higher education. This gap can be seen more in supplementary-based programs that McMaster offers, and my experience unfortunately is not an isolated one.
Multiple students from different programs stated that the lack of Black students in their programs made them feel like there were few people who could relate to the struggles that come with being Black.
There was also another complexity that I did not consider — the fact that there are more Black women in academia than Black men. One health sciences student, upon realizing that they were the only Black man in their whole year, experienced feelings of isolation.
In addition, a justice, political philosophy and law student was the only Black man in their program, and though he is friends with Black women, he notes that it is not fully the same.
Regrettably, the issues that stem from the lack of diversity do not just have interpersonal effects, but also affect the learning experience. A student in the arts and science program said that there were times when a professor or student would ask a question that pertained to race, and the question would seem pointed at them, the only Black student in their year.
This student can also recall a moment when a professor made a comment about how some students may be used to hearing racist jokes, and then locked eyes with them, creating an uncomfortable situation.
Another former arts and science student had a class where a classmate attempted to defend slavery, and a professor who taught a class about oppression but refused to use the term “racism”. The student states that they never felt challenged by the program, and felt that they had to do the challenging rather than their instructors. This was due, they say, to the structure and instruction of the program being catered to their affluent white peers and not to them.
The catering of programs does not seem limited to just arts and science but can also be seen in McMaster Engineering Society programs. A student within the program switched out after one semester due to the lack of actual inquiry in the program, but a focus on the marks received.
When a peer in their program stated that "the disadvantaged [in Hamilton] aren't doing enough for the more privileged to help them," the professor did not immediately shut down this false and insensitive statement, but instead was complacent. In addition, the structure of the program encouraged students to repeat the same statistics because that is what is needed for a good grade, and not because the students wished to learn more about societal issues.
If multiple Black students in different years and different programs are saying the same thing, there needs to be some sort of change to support these students when they are in the program. I am not suggesting these programs change their selection process, because this lack of diversity is a systemic issue, and I do not have the knowledge to provide suitable solutions to help mitigate the effects.
Regardless, if McMaster strives for diversity and does not have the necessary structure to support the diverse students that they already have, then their efforts are just a baseless claim to obtain more money from a diverse group of students.
By: Drew Simpson
Over a month of Hamilton Youth Poet’s Black Poet Residency has passed. So far, the residency has taken place at the Art Gallery of Hamilton every Saturday and the weekly residency will continue until May.
HYP is an arts organization that launched in October 2012. The organization’s four main goals are to manifest a community of cultural understanding, offer youth tools to deliver their writing and literary skill, engage youth towards their academic ambitions and to support aspiring artists’ professional development.
Ultimately, HYP empowers young people by offering training as arts organizers and allowing youth to take part in the planning, promotion and facilitation of events. One of these events is the Black Poet Residency featuring Ian Keteku, a two-time national slam champion and multimedia artist, as a key facilitator.
Although both the organization and event have poets within its name, participants may be beyond the scope of experienced poets. Those who wish to develop their writing skills, editing, computer literacy and even multi-digital processes will benefit from the residency.
“Those interested need not regard themselves as poets or require any prior knowledge of poetry. The residency aims to transcend simply writing poems,” explains one of HYP’s teaching artists, Akintoye Asalu.
This residency is in line with HYP’s focus on youth-focused events coordinated by youths, as it is aimed towards youth writers, performers and creative-minded individuals. As mentioned by Asalu, anyone who is interested in bettering their skills is welcome to attend.
“When our young people can tell and re-tell their histories in the context of public platforms, they are able to imagine and re-imagine their individual and collective identities and become culturally grounded in their own experiences,” explains HYP’s website.
The residency aims to provide an inclusive and supportive space which allows black youth to express their experiences and explore their voices. Such a weekly residency is necessary in Hamilton, to amplify often-silenced voices while also developing skills and building community. Asalu can attribute the prosperity of this residency as a participant himself.
“Being able to sit down and converse with people who understand the struggles that come with being a [person of colour] motivates me to keep using my art to help our community in as many ways as I can… My only hope is that the healthy dialogue that exists within the residency will spread to the rest of the community,” explains Asalu.
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Poetry and art directly combat the sense of isolation people of colour experience on a daily basis. Especially as they face daily experiences with institutions that were built without them in mind.
Asalu describes how poetry allows him to be the voice for those cast in silence; bringing light to silenced struggles. He also finds poetry as a healthy coping mechanism. Every HYP event puts youth at the center. Therefore, a Black-focused residency, puts Black youth at the center; a position that may be unfamiliar to them.
“I want Black people all around the city to feel comfortable talking about the things they go through on a day-to-day basis without fear of judgment from those around them. It is my belief that in order to enact change, we must first begin with constructive dialogue. Through this dialogue, constructive actions can be taken to improve the quality of life for [people of colour] as a whole,” explains Asalu.
This residency can be the defining moment for many Black youths in Hamilton. Raising their voices, attending to their mental health and finding support in community are never-ending obstacles for black youth. The ability to express struggles and unbox silenced concerns while doing so is a grand goal that when realized makes a positive difference in a young person’s life.
On Feb. 2, Sonia Igboanugo, a fourth-year McMaster biomedical discovery and commercialization student and co-founder of Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster, received the Lincoln Alexander scholarship at the John C. Holland awards, which celebrates African-Canadian achievement in Hamilton.
Igboanugo and McMaster grad student Kayonne Christy launched BAP-MAC during the 2016-2017 school year to support Black McMaster students striving to become physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Igboanugo was inspired to create the club following her attendance at a University of Toronto summer mentorship program geared towards Indigenous and Black students interested in health sciences.
“I felt like that program changed my life in terms of inspiring me in what I thought I could do and what my capacity was as a potential health care professional,” Igboanugo said. “I felt very empowered and I felt very interested in this in bringing the same experience to McMaster.”
Since then, BAP-MAC has steadily grown. Currently, the club has over 100 members, proving a variety of resources to its members.
As part of the BAP-MAC mentorship program, younger students are paired with a mentor who provides academic and career guidance.
Throughout the year, BAP-MAC also arms students with information about research opportunities and hosts workshops and talks led by healthcare professionals.
At its core, however, BAP-Mac simply serves as a community for Black students on campus.
“For me, the biggest part has been connecting with older students who can help me navigate through university,” said first-year kinesiology student Ida Olaye, who aspires to go to medical school. “BAP-MAC gives you that support group, to know that you’re not alone, that there are a lot of people trying to pursue the same dream that you are pursuing and it is very doable.”
This past year, BAP-MAC received a three-year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The grant has allowed BAP-MAC to host a conference for the first time. The event is scheduled for this upcoming May.
The grant also allows the club to expand its vision to empower Black youth on a larger scale.
“Because we have a pretty good campus presence, I would say, but the goal was to address the issue of lack of diversity on a more systemic front,” Igboanugo said.
Part of that is a new initiative aimed at incorporating high school students into the BAP-MAC program by connecting them to undergraduate student mentors.
Second-year human behaviour student Simi Olapade, who is also the associate director of multimedia for BAP-MAC, sees a lot of value in the initiative.
“Reaching out to those high school students is an opportunity that I even wished I had to be honest. Seeing someone like you in a place where you want to be helps so much in terms of making you focus more on achieving that goal, making you more goal-oriented and making you more focused,” Olapade said.
Reflecting on the award she recently received, Igboanugo says the work she does as part of BAP-MAC only reflects how others have helped her.
“It was very humbling to actually be recognized for the work because it is the greatest thing or greatest privilege I have to always serve my community or use my strength to better my community and the people around me,” Igboanugo said.
Students wishing to get involved with BAP-MAC can learn more about the group’s initiatives on BAP-MAC’s Facebook page.