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The Ujima Initiative: Black Youth Empowerment

December 1, 2021

United Way is listening, learning and setting goals to create a more equitable, diverse and inclusive space for all. Part of that journey includes our commitment to collaborate, support and empower Black youth in the community.

The Ujima initiative will support Black youth enrolled in United Way’s On Track to Success program. The word ‘Ujima’ (pronounced oo-JEE-ma) means collective work, union and association in Swahili. Ujima is based on the idea of building a community together and making ‘our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and solving them together’, precisely what the youth program hopes to do.

Program coordinator, Zeneeka Brown, says the students in the program will have Black mentors, mental wellness workshops, volunteer opportunities, and social and cultural activities. These activities will make the On Track to Success program more culturally relevant for Black youth, and provide specific supports for racialized youth in navigating high school. Almost one third of On Track to Success students identify as part of the Black diaspora (community).

In addition to On Track’s goal of increasing high school graduation rates and post-secondary enrollment, the Ujima program outcomes include increased school attendance, community connections and resources, improved academic performance, as well as self-reported improvement in mental wellness and self-esteem.

Over the past year, students have been exposed to cultural activities that have changed their views on what they’re capable of achieving.

On Track to Success students tour the Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Students report that Black cultural activities motivated and inspired them to achieve

“I have one student who was previously in the college track in high school, and after attending an African diaspora youth conference, they decided that they wanted to be in the university track,” says Brown. “The student had said to me, ‘If it wasn’t for this conference, I would have never actually seen students like myself or seen Black people on a university campus.’”

“After the Black history month events that I took them to, they said to me, ‘If it wasn’t for these events, I would have never seen the possibility of enrolling in law school because I’ve never seen any Black lawyers or Black law students’. Having the opportunity to talk to some Black law students at the Afrofest events that were held at the University of Windsor campus, that really motivated them to be able to work towards that goal. It really was reassuring.”

Ujima is set to formally launch in early 2022.

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