By Owen Charters
At Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada, our broad brand direction is inspired by the idea of “no more barriers.” In communities across the country, our Clubs are critical in helping kids and teens overcome any number of barriers that are often found in their way.
Many of these barriers come from pervasive systemic racism. Clubs witness the detrimental effects of systemic racism every day. They see youth that cannot access the opportunities that others have. They see the messages and behaviours that continually diminish the expectations and possibilities for young people. They witness the effect of inequity, especially in racialized communities. We see it most starkly right now, as reports of COVID-19 cases are rising most quickly in racialized neighbourhoods. Early on, this was evident in Toronto, and now data from Alberta is showing the same thing. Why is this? Because these communities often have multi-tenant dwellings with poorer ventilation and less access to outdoor space. Because workers in these communities are often frontline workers who have increased exposure due to working conditions. And these are just a few examples of the systemic challenges these communities face.
This is why we have launched our Systemic Opportunity campaign. Our Clubs play an essential role in combatting inequity, in navigating paths to opportunities that aren’t otherwise available for so many young people and families.
As spokesperson for our the Systemic Opportunity campaign, Canadian icon Jully Black penned an op-ed that was recently published by the Toronto Star online and in print (we also posted it on our website if you can’t access the Star). Through the lens of growing up in the Jane & Finch neighbourhood in north Toronto and attending the Boys & Girls Club when she was young, Jully has written about the importance of opportunity, now more than ever, and the need to invest in young people if we are going to make changes to a system that disproportionately underserves BIPOC communities. This is not the first time Jully has championed our Clubs—she was a powerful presence for our Unplug to Connect events in 2018 and 2019 and she has a strong connection with our St. Alban’s Club in Toronto. Jully is living proof of how access to opportunity and removing barriers can change everything for a young person. This is the crux of our Systemic Opportunity campaign: in the face of ongoing systemic issues exacerbated by the pandemic—racism, poverty, discrimination, inequity—our Clubs offer systemic, long-term, life-changing solutions. To quote Jully, “if we create opportunities, especially for young people, we change lives, we change communities, we change our country.”
I can’t say it better than that. No. More. Barriers.