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New Ottawa Black youth initiative looks to turn movement into long-term change

Sisi Akhigbe, founder of Impact Black Global, says working for the equality of Black people cannot merely be a "trend.". Photo provided

A local activist is hoping to turn the momentum from recent demonstrations in Ottawa and around the world into long-term change to build up the city’s Black youth.

Sisi Akhigbe, a 24-year-old Ottawa woman, is the founder of Impact Black Global.

The organization, which is holding its BBQ launch event at Mooney’s Bay on Labour Day, is focused on bolstering Black youth through mentorship and professional support networks as well as building bridges between Black community groups in Ottawa.

The new group is borne out of Akhigbe’s viral success at another event supporting Ottawa’s Black community earlier this year, the No Peace Until Justice march in the nation’s capital.

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Thousands gather in Ottawa for demonstration, Trudeau takes knee – Jun 5, 2020

That demonstration made international headlines when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a knee on Parliament Hill alongside protesters calling for the end of systemic anti-Black racism in Ottawa.

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But headlines and photo ops tend to miss the role of support players in massive demonstrations like Ottawa’s anti-racism march and similar events held in response to the death of George Floyd and other Black people killed in police violence.

Read more: Judge Trudeau for taking action, not a knee, say Ottawa anti-racism march organizers

For Akhigbe’s part, the 2019 graduate of Carleton University’s undergraduate law program noticed a lack of access to water and other supplies for protesters and took it upon herself to organize a crowdfunding campaign to make sure food and drink was available on the hot day.

She went to Costco a few days before the march to cost out how much she’d need for roughly a thousand juice boxes and set up the campaign that evening with a modest goal of $1,500.

Within four days, she’d raised more than $9,000.

Akhigbe says she was able to buy thousands of snacks and drinks for the June 5 march and 75 people volunteered to help her distribute the supplies.

Even after the event and demonstrators had taken their fill, she had thousands left to donate to the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa and the Carling Family Shelter.

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With the unspent money, she made a donation of more than $6,000 to the Britannia Woods Community House.

Akhigbe says the experience humbled her from start to finish.

“I’ve never seen so many people come together like they did,” she says. “People were like, ‘I just want to help.’”

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The groundswell of support Akhigbe saw for her Black brothers and sisters at the No Peace Until Justice march was unprecedented for the Brampton, Ont., native.

In the months following the event, she resolved to carry on the momentum from her successful crowdfunding campaign to build a new organization that could turn the current moment into lasting change.

“It’s beyond Black Lives Matter. Let’s keep this thing going. Let’s go long term with this,” she says.

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One of the key tenets of Impact Black Global is to connect Black youth in Ottawa with mentors in professional fields who can lift them up and show them an example of what they’re capable of achieving.

Akhigbe says this is a challenge she faced growing up in Brampton, where she says she routinely faced adversity in even getting to university in the first place.

“One of the barriers I’ve experienced is not having that opportunity to have someone look at me and saying, ‘Sisi, I believe in you. I want to help you get to where it is that you need to get to.’”

Akhigbe, who has aspirations to enter politics, hopes to be an example for young Black women.

She says a lack of mentors and role models is a key part of the puzzle in lifting Black youth into positions of power where they can influence systems that discriminate against racialized people.

Read more: Carleton criminology department severs ties with police, prisons in anti-racism reform

 

Akhigbe says when she did find a mentor who looked like her and had faced the same struggles she did, their support was integral to putting her on her current path.

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“Having to push past all of those setbacks, all of those heartaches, all of those challenging times… I want to show people that despite your story, despite the troubles you’ve experienced, you too can become great,” she says.

The Impact Black Global launch party is a ticketed event with a limit of 100 attendees, per coronavirus restrictions on public outdoor gatherings. The BBQ will also include temperature screenings at entry and mask-use is “strongly encouraged.”

Among speakers planned for the event are Ralechate L. Mokose, high commissioner for the Kingdom of Lesotho, Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King and River Coun. Riley Brockington.

Read more: Proposed anti-racism role on Ottawa council doesn’t go far enough, Black activists say

With momentum behind her and a new organization ahead of her, Akhigbe hopes the continued support and energy she sees in demonstrations in cities around the world does not wane in the months to come.

“Understanding that Black people deserve to be treated equally should not be a trend,” she says.

“We have to keep going, we have to keep fighting, we have to keep working to get into those positions of power to create systemic change.”

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