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Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay: Supporting Youth Voices about Racism

Initially, the goal of the Thunder Bay Project was to develop a Youth Action Network in Thunder Bay and to build mentoring relationships between youth and adults. The Project encountered some difficulties in pursuing this path. Narrowing the project from this broad focus to mobilizing the youth and others about racism took some time. Go to the Community Vision for a discussion of community participants on these issues in December 2002.

The issue of racism emerged clearly in June 2003, during the "Closing the Distance - the Leaders of Tomorrow" forum in Thunder Bay. On the first day, 35 youth who were involved in various community programs attended the workshop. Many youth participants raised the issue of racism and the conversation became focused on this. For many Aboriginal youth, this forum was a chance to have their voices heard about how racism affects their everyday life.

In response to the voices of these young people, it was determined racism would become the main focus of this project. Between January and April 2004, focus groups were held with about 300 youth in community agencies, shelters and schools. In these focus groups youth were asked to describe how racism has affected them and how to stop racism in schools.

Through the focus groups, Project staff identified some young people who wanted to be more involved in the Project. In addition to the focus groups, Project staff supported young people to express themselves in other ways. Some youth who got involved in the project created a 'zine in which youth could express themselves though rants, artwork, poetry etc. The 'zine, which was called Open your Mouth was so successful that the CBC worked with the youth to create a short radio feature about what it meant to them to create art and put out the 'zine.

On April 14, 2004, the Project conducts a conference in which 50 youth and 15 school teachers, principals and Board officials attend. The event is judged to be a tremendous success in surfacing concerns about racism in the schools in a safe environment and in a manner focused on generating solutions. Young people and school officials both expressed a determination to follow up with action on the recommendations for change in schools to eliminate racism coming out of the conference.

Partnerships with the two school boards in Thunder Bay has ensured that teachers, principals and school board officials continue to listen to the voices of youth. Progress with the school boards was at first slow going but both boards are now, working in partnership with youth and community members to address racism within school.

(See Case Studies for information on how to get the full story on the Closing the Distance Project in Thunder Bay)

Going Forward

The Thunder Project was funded under the second phase of the SEII. During the second phase of the project there are plans to work in partnership with the schools on socially inclusive curriculum. An Advisory Committee with representation of students, both the public and separate school boards and community agencies, including an agency serving the Aboriginal community, are now planning anit-racism curriculum for use in several high school courses.

An exciting partnership has also been forged between the Faculty of Education and the Native Education Faculty at Lakehead University. This partnership will involve student teachers in the design of learning material while encouraging Lakehead University to adopt the educational resource document in their curriculum.

Young people will continue to play a meaningful role in this project as contributing members of the SEII committee. Moreover, they will be involved in the development of curriculum to ensure appeal of the course material to youth.

Photos and Videos

Scott Bulmer helps launch the Thunder Bay Project
December 2002

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High Res (4 MB) Satu Groombridge, Project volunteer reports on plans for the Thunder Bay Project
March 2003

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High Res (4 MB)

Graphic and message on T-Shirt distributed at Racism in the Schools Conference,
Thunder Bay, April 14, 2004

Wall Mural on the root causes of racism in Thunder Bay schools produced by the youth and adult participants in the conference

The Thunder Bay Team in first phase of the Project, John Saxberg, Satu Groombridge, and Duncan Adams discuss Project strategy with Chandra Rice of the SPNO Central Support team at the All-Region Workshop in waterloo, Ontario, June 2-3, 2003

Cover of second issue of Thunder Bay youth 'zine, "Open Your Mouth"

Carol Rusak, lead volunteer with Lakehead SPC in building receptivity to the Project with the local Boards of Education

Steve Gothard, Thunder Bay staff in first phase of Project, presenting a graphic chart of a pinball machine to illustrate the "stops and starts" in developing a Youth Action Network to the All-Region Workshop in Toronto, March 22, 2004

Community Vision (December 2002)

(In December 2002, community leaders in Thunder Bay came together to spend a day shaping a direction for the Thunder Bay Closing the Distance Project. The leadership group focused attention on a very narrowly defined group that are missed on our social radar - 16 to 17 year old youth who have left home or dropped out of school. During the day, they were joined by a small group of teenagers who shed further light on the experiences that distance youth in Thunder Bay. The following summarizes their discussion as captured in a wall-size graphic mural produced in the session.)
Click for larger version

Adult Relationship Breakdown at Home ...

It is a relatively normal experience for teenagers to experience tension at home in their relationships with their parents. But the degree of tension can lead to a spiral of breakdown of trust that translates into "adults are not to be trusted"; whether they are relationships with adults at home, or at school with teachers, principals, coaches etc.

Teenagers that are on the edge of homelessness or dropping out of school feel that they are not being heard. They experience being treated like a child; adults think that they know everything. So when teens have legitimate issues ranging from opinions that matter, to speaking out about abuse, addictions, they are shut down.

Adults have the power. Teens are spoken down to. They are desperately looking for a relationship with adults built upon mutual respect, but they experience adults unable to handle a more evenly balanced relationship.

As much as they find themselves in conflict, they want a relationship that is built upon trust.

...and at School

When frustration builds up at home, it gets carried over to life at school. Some speak out, talk back, and make themselves heard, only to find that they get suspended, kicked out.

Others get depressed, get stoned, don't go to school, and once again find themselves suspended, kicked out.

Some teens experience school as the source of anger and frustration; they don't fit in; they are not the academic, or the jock; they struggle with the work and don't understand. They experience not being valued.

Thunder Bay finds many young people arriving from remote native communities to go to school. They arrive in an urban environment, often with no established networks of relationships. Some make their way through supports provided by the aboriginal network of supports and services, but others fall through the cracks.

Many young people don't find adults who want to know what they are really angry, or depressed about.

Where Can You Go When Home is Not Home Anymore?

Young people struggle with the decision to leave home. Some need to get out because it is not safe or healthy, they are being abused physically, emotionally, sexually, but can't see the way out. They have no money and no way to get enough to live on their own. They don't fit the criteria for welfare and Ontario Works.

Others decide to leave. They find friends to live with. They just want to "hang out", break free of the rules, be in charge of their own time, no curfew.

They are drawn to hang out with friends, people that they can talk to about anything as equals.

What Do You Do When You Get There?

If they look for a job and find work, it is usually low paying part time work. Sometimes they can find summer work, tree planting etc..

Many drop out of school. It is too much to do school and keep the job going. Later they find that they work in dead end jobs, in situations where they are abused and taken advantage of.

They make very little money. They run into problems trying to get around on public transportation to their jobs and interviews. It is especially hard in winter. Waiting in extremely cold weather on bus routes that are not direct, if there are any.

When they realize just how important getting an education is they try to go back to school, but they know they need something different than the high school they left.

Who Can Help You Find Your Way?

Eventually they realize that they have dreams beyond "hanging out". They want to learn skills. They want to own a home and a truck, or graduate from college, or become a cartoonist.

And they begin looking for guides and mentors that can show them the way, that can help them set goals, make plans, overcome barriers, move in the right direction.

© Social Planning Network of Ontario