Kamilah Francis has a great belief in the power of youth, but also, in the need to make sure they reach their full potential.
She is the recipient of a $5,000 microgrant and leadership development training, and told Sudbury.com she is more excited than ever to support young people, and in particular, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) and disabled youth.
Francis is the program director of Sudbury-based Future North. She said she was drawn to working in support of young people because of the support she had as a child. Growing up in Ajax as the child of a single parent, Francis acknowledged the support from her community she received as a child, to which she credits her success.
Future North is part of the Communities Building Youth Futures Initiative, a five-year project to work with up to 13 communities across Canada to help youth in career development.
The whole initiative is built around increasing education and career opportunities for youth, but more than that, said Francis, there is opportunity to support youth in the many aspects of their life, the support they need to be the best they can be.
“I find that there's so many organizations that are focused on essay writing and the like, then actually hooking people up with jobs,” said Francis. “And while we do present our youth opportunities, we also help them develop those leadership skills, helping them turn issues that they see into actual projects that allow us to address them.”
The voices of young people are important to the organization, and central to their work is the Youth Expert Panel, a group of young people who identify innovative approaches possibly unseen by others, as well as providing insight and feedback on proposals to ensure they accurately reflect the needs of youth.
One such youth-led project is The Culture of the North: BIPOC Youth Taking Action project, funded by Pathways to Education. This project sought to determine the degree to which multicultural education is being taught within the high school classrooms in the District of Sudbury and Manitoulin, and its impact on students who identify as BIPOC.
Another is a program that will be funded by the Ontario Community Changemakers. Called Future North: Redefining Success,
“Youth identified to us the immense pressure that they're under, to do well in school, to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives, and essentially go to post secondary, and get a good career and be successful in the end,” said Francis.
She said the picture that youth were forming of what leads to success was different from the paths that many people, including Future North leaders, took to find their dreams.
“We were all talking, we were kind of letting them know that we all have very interesting stories of how we ended up in the field that we're in, and it wasn't exactly like a linear way of getting there,” she said.
Francis said the program will offer youth a chance to listen to the stories of others, local people, to show them that not only do people often take different routes to get to where they want to be, but also, that success doesn’t require one to move to the big city. Then focusing on average people and their level of happiness.
“We want youth to realize that you don't have to be the owner of the 10 best restaurants in Sudbury to be a successful person, you can be successful as long as you are happy in the role that you're in, and you're living within the means that make you happy,” she said.
Originally designed with keynote speakers, the youth panel informed Francis and her staff that one-to-one interactions, over coffee, perhaps, would also be appreciated.
“We're also going to be targeting different groups,” said Francis, noting that there will be special focus on the BIPOC community, as well as people with disabilities.
It will be a chance for Francis to share her story as well, not just about her upbringing and the help she received, but also, about her somewhat unusual path to her dream job.
She began at Laurentian University, studying behavioral neuroscience. When she completed her degree, she began working with people who had experienced brain injury. That job required patient advocacy as well, and she fell in love with that part of the work.
Now, she’s in the social sciences and couldn’t be happier with the work she is doing, showing young people that while their path may go off in all directions, all the directions are valid, important, and the secret to success, however one defines it.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com