By Jully Black (published in The Toronto Star on November 30, 2020)
Opportunity changes everything.
If this sentence doesn’t resonate with you, then maybe opportunity wasn’t something you had to think about. Or maybe you had to create your own opportunities — but doors were still open to you and so “changes everything” doesn’t hit the same.
When I first heard this, I liked it. It rang true because it moves from the usual debates about policing and gun control and other short-term solutions and looks to the long game: if we create opportunities, especially for young people, we change lives, we change communities, we change our country.
For me, opportunity is when those who are invisible or excluded are given a chance to show their abilities to others who have the resources to take them to the next level. I often say give me the interview and I will get the job. I’m not looking for you to give me the job — I’m looking for a safe and brave space to present the greatness that I have manifested.
Playing organized basketball at the Boys and Girls Club was my opportunity. It kept me focused and off the streets. I always did well academically and clearly music was a given, but it was when I got deep into organized sports that I realized sport imitates society. If you can contribute to a team and you know that the success of that team is dependent on your commitment and focus, it will transfer into other areas of your life. I fundamentally believe that I’ve had success in the music business because I know how to play on a team.
I know people will read this and say I am an exception — but I shouldn’t be. For too many Canadians, opportunity is not available. How do you realize your potential when you can’t even find the doors in the first place, let alone open them?
We are lucky in Canada to have organizations out there doing what they can to level the playing field, like Boys & Girls Clubs. Across the country, they remove barriers and create opportunities for thousands and thousands of kids and teens. Most importantly, they help kids develop the talents and skills they need so that when a door opens, a young person can take advantage of that moment.
That’s why I’m happy to champion their new Systemic Opportunity campaign, which reinforces the role Boys & Girls Clubs play in building social safety nets for so many young Canadians.
The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the gap across Canada, especially for BIPOC communities. Over the summer, Black people and other people of colour made up 83 per cent of COVID cases in Toronto. StatsCan data shows that workers of colour are hit harder by job loss, Indigenous communities are experiencing worsening mental health, and newcomers are struggling with increased anxiety.
In general, racial inequities are on the rise. And research shows that children who face racism are more likely to be victims of poverty and abuse, have more interactions with child welfare and the justice system, and experience challenges at school.
The new Boys & Girls Clubs campaign contrasts these systemic issues with the systemic solutions that Clubs offer — equity, acceptance, support, opportunity. And these are not just words. This way of thinking structures all their programs and services, with one goal: provide young people with what they need to be their best selves.
I have seen this firsthand. I have witnessed how club staff and participants have formed unique connections that are tied to their humanity, not what could be happening outside the club’s door. I have spoken to club members and heard the excitement about their future, despite their current circumstances. It’s clear they are supported and encouraged.
But Boys & Girls Clubs and other charitable organizations shouldn’t be doing this work alone. If opportunity is giving those who are invisible and excluded a chance to showcase their abilities, then it’s clear we need to create favourable conditions — and that means investing in young people and the communities where they live.
Many of us are born with what people call “raw talent.” And when I hear the word raw, I think of what is needed to shape that talent. It’s not just money. Youth need to know that they are being heard and respected and taken seriously enough to be invested in. It’s a beautiful thing to receive a financial boost, but it’s even more important to see the proud and present heart behind the donation. That’s what will propel Black youth and others who need opportunity to truly soar into their purpose.
Opportunity changes everything.
Dubbed Canada’s Queen of R&B, Jully Black is a platinum-selling, award-winning recording artist, actress in film, theatre, and television, and a major presence in the Canadian media and entertainment industry.