Help change lives like Dorothy’s in Winnipeg now.
High school can be a daunting experience for many young people. But being new to Canada, from an African country and not yet sure how or where to belong, just trying to make it through the day can be unbearably hard.
“I was really shy, lonely and kept mostly to myself,” said Dorothy, who moved to Canada as a teenager and attended Daniel McIntyre Collegiate.
“I was born in Côte d’Ivoire, where French was my first language… Teachers and students made me feel that my accent was terrible when I spoke English and had difficulty understanding me, so for me to really speak up in class, make friends, or even get involved with anything important was overwhelming.
“It got so bad to the point where my dad would often leave work to have lunch with me because I would sit behind the school by myself, on my phone or reading books that he got for me.”
“Coming from an African descent to a Canadian culture and trying to navigate life and integrate as a young person is really difficult.”
Through many conversations with then-coordinator Mr. Joseph Fofana, who told her there was a place for people like her and she will benefit from it, Dorothy decided to enrol in All That Kids Can Be—a mentorship program for youth of African descent, managed by African Communities of Manitoba Inc. (ACOMI). The United Way Winnipeg donor-supported program currently runs at two Winnipeg high schools, Daniel McIntyre and Gordon Bell, with integration into a third in the works.
Through All That Kids Can Be, Dorothy started attending weekly get-togethers and excursions, where she met other teens with similar life experiences, stories, struggles and dreams.
She began to celebrate the best parts of herself and rediscover her own voice—the one she’d been hiding away for so long.
“Coming from an African descent to a Canadian culture and trying to navigate life and integrate as a young person is really difficult, so you find that most of the time you keep to yourself because we think no one’s going through those things,” Dorothy said. “But then, with the All That Kids Can Be program … it helped me build that self-esteem, to be able to build the confidence pretty much I have within.
“To be able to make friends, talk among people—but most importantly, to help me to pursue higher education in my field to be able to give back to my community, which I’m doing now.”
“When they come to this program … they meet other newcomers like them—and then they learn together, they begin to make friends.”
With renewed strength, Dorothy graduated from high school and enrolled in the Community Development/Community Economic Development program at Red River College, graduating with honours. She continued to the University of Winnipeg right after and achieved a degree in Urban and Inner-City Studies/International Development Studies.
After finishing her studies, Dorothy wanted to put her knowledge, talents, and experience to work for her community. She realized one of the more impactful ways to do that would be to give back to the place that had given so much to her.
So today, Dorothy is ACOMI’s Youth Engagement Coordinator—facilitating the very excursions and get-togethers through the All That Kids Can Be program that helped her gain confidence, boost her self-esteem, and secure a sense of belonging as a teen.
The groups go on field trips to movies, museums, and the zoo, and spend time at the beach in the summer. Youth learn money management and personal growth skills and can apply for scholarships to help fuel their futures with post-secondary education.
Dorothy credits Joseph Fofana and the encouragement of her dad for helping her to see the positive benefits of the ATKCB program and setting her on a purposeful life path.
“(My father) will always remind me about our strong culture, discipline, and the values instilled in me to thrive in any situation and make the best of it, and he emphasized that I have come here to make life a better one for myself, my siblings, and other youth of my kind,” she said.
“His encouragement propelled me to make good use of the opportunities All That Kids Can Be had to offer.”
Titi Tijani, President of the African Communities of Manitoba Inc., said ACOMI’s youth-centred programming is core to the philosophies of the organization—to cultivate a vibrant, engaged, and sustainable African Canadian presence across Manitoba, contributing to a culturally rich and economically prosperous, socially inclusive society.
“It’s been very helpful for youth,” said Tijani of All That Kids Can Be. “It’s difficult to come into a new society sometimes don’t even speak English and to be able to integrate well … When they come to this program, we help them to relax, they meet other newcomers like them—and then they learn together, they begin to make friends.”
Tijani added former participants like Dorothy often come back to work or volunteer with the program, which inspires teens currently in the group to follow along the same path.
“Youth mentorship is key—especially for newcomer youth,” she said. “By having a role model and seeing the positive change in them, the students in the program stay in the program and are also eager to learn.”
ACOMI cultivates a vibrant, engaged, and sustainable African Canadian presence across Manitoba
In addition to programming for young people, ACOMI also facilitates a host of supports for its affiliated organizations and community members, including seniors and families. About 40,000 people of African heritage call Winnipeg home.
One of ACOMI’s largest successes is its tax program, which helps residents file income tax and has been running for about 10 years.
“We’re helping them to file taxes (and) accessing benefits that a lot of people aren’t even aware they qualify for,” Tijani said. “We have been able to recoup for our members over $1 million in tax funds that people are able to get back.”
Finally, ACOMI recently celebrated the opening of a new cultural hub at 301 Nassau Street North. Its flagship space on Kennedy Street in the Central Park area of Winnipeg continues to serve residents of the downtown area.
The Fort Rouge hub, which opened in July, is 1,700 square feet and is large enough to run three programs or events at the same time—everything from board meetings to drumming workshops to art exhibits and more.
The new space is an illumination of everything ACOMI aims to be: it’s welcoming and bright, it’s open to associations to gather, meet, learn, and socialize—and it’s available for rent seven days a week to everyone in Winnipeg of all cultures.
“Our communities have responded really well,” said Tijani. “It’s a long time coming.”
Tijani said she’s grateful for the United Way Winnipeg donor support that not only helps youth to thrive, but also supports staff, referral services, outreach, and ACOMI’s mission to care for, respond to and grow with the needs of the community.
“Having the support of United Way as a backbone supporter is key to what we do.”