Dial Youth Activism Conference @ 1-800-SCL-CHNG


The community at large comes together to explore avenues to activism

The 7th youth-led, Social Justice Conference from March 2 to 4 at StFX was a great triumph. The highly anticipated appearance of Desmond Cole on Friday night, packed the Schwartz auditorium with over 100 people. Desmond is a Toronto-based columnist, activist, and radio host born in Red Deer, Alberta to parents who immigrated from Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Desmond was the recipient of highly respected 2017 PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize for Freedom of Expression. As well, he is currently in the process of writing his first book. I heard, unofficially, that it might be completely written as early as November of this year!

Two opening acts of activism introduced Desmond’s keynote on Friday. A group of youth drummers, led by Morgan Gero, played a groovy ceremonial rhythm. Then, a powerful spoken word delivered by Kalista Desmond moved the audience to a standing ovation.

The entertaining emcees of the night were our Students’ Union VP of Residence Affairs, Rebecca Mesay and youth leader, Trinity Ashewasegai from Paq’tnkek, Nova Scotia.

Desmond led a seminar unpacking racism and white supremacy. Desmond’s metaphor that, “Our entire country is a museum of white supremacy” quenched the taste buds of my reasoning. Consider the Scalping Proclamation, Indian Act, and Chinese Immigration Act among other racist artifacts that affirm white supremacy in Canada.

Racism and white supremacy are close-minded ideas founded on the illogical principle that racialized people have less power and value than white people.

During the keynote a youth leader from Paqtn’kek, Caleb Peters, spoke up and said that while acknowledgement of settlement on unceded Indigenous territory is good, “We need more than acknowledgement.” For the young activist with a bright mind, acknowledgement is only the first of many steps in a long walk towards truth and reconciliation.

Desmond’s keynote was the hot topic of discussion among youth leaders into the first Saturday workshop. Workshops offered included, but were not limited to poetry, podcasting and painting Mi’kmaq Komqwejwi’kasikl (Hieroglyphic) on rocks. Each Komqwejwi’kasikl signifies a message of hope. Keep an eye out for these rocks scattered on campus!

Kalista and Anas Atakora co-hosted a workshop on Activism through Spoken Word. Participants learned techniques, wrote, created and shared spoken word, deepening their skills and refining their understanding of this medium.

Desmond hosted a Saturday workshop on media literacy and how to recognize racism and white supremacy in media texts. His workshop engaged the audience to explore recent case studies of racial profiling in Canada and how big media players like CBC, Global News and The Toronto Star normalize white supremacy and racism by protecting the identities of racist white people like Nikki Samuel.

Nikki’s belligerently racist loudmouth was caught on video at the Rapid Access to Medical Specialists in Mississauga, Ontario last year. All the big media players who covered the story protected her identity by withholding her name and superimposing a blur over her face on the original video.

I met with Desmond after his Saturday workshop and presented him with the question, “How do you feel about your keynote and workshop with youth leaders at the Youth Activism Conference?”

Desmond responded, “I feel very welcomed by the youth who are here. All of these young people are leaders just by being interested in coming here and participating. They are demonstrating a lot of leadership. We’re talking about racism and white supremacy, and these young people have their own stories and experiences. So, I hear them listening to the stories that I’m telling and the experiences that I’m talking about, but they understand it already because they have experienced things like this in their own communities. I think it’s very powerful when we can get together, listen, and validate each other’s stories. Sometimes you feel alone when something bad happens and you experience racism, you feel like maybe there isn’t a venue for you to talk about it. This is one of those venues where we can talk and it’s really nice to be doing it together.”

The Youth Activism Conference continued Sunday morning with a creative representation workshop; youth leaders chose a creative way to represent their learnings over the weekend and presented their artwork. The Conference ended with a motivating speech and traditional group dance hosted by Aaron Prosper, a Mi’kmaq from the Eskasoni First Nation.