Black youth gather at Calgary event to help empower immigrants

Click to play video: 'Black History Month events focus on celebrating and ensuring success'
Black History Month events focus on celebrating and ensuring success
WATCH: Calgary’s Immigrant Outreach Society focuses on the unique challenges Black East African refugees face. IOS executive director Adi Sahilie outlines February events hoping to inform and inspire. – Feb 4, 2023

Dozens of youth with East African backgrounds gathered at the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary on Saturday during an event aimed at helping them achieve their full potential.

Adi Eyassu Sahilie moved to Canada 12 year ago from Ethiopia. She said even as a skilled worker and fluent English, she missed job opportunities because of discrimination.

“It might be really shocking, but to be honest as a black person, facing racism or facing discrimination, it feels like the air you were breathing,” Sahilie said.

Many people don’t think racism exists, but especially for people of colour, like Black people and Indigenous, the discrimination level is really severe.

As a black person you face that kind of racism but I don’t want to just complain — I want to bring a solution. That’s why we are working around racism and helping black youths because if anyone doesn’t feel valued, their mental health is not going to be OK,” Sahilie said.

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As the executive director of the Immigrant Outreach Society (IOS) — a black led non-for-profit organization that provides culturally appropriate mental health intervention for ethnic minorities from East Africa — Sahilie has organized the “Stepping Into Your Future” black youth event.

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The event on Saturday was aimed at connecting youth from East Africa to services they might not otherwise access.

“I know from our youth that they never get a chance to connect with them. They don’t know what kind of services they are offering so that’s a huge barrier,” Sahilie said.

“I am a black youth in Calgary, so I had to be a part of this event to help people like me feel included and to feel celebrated,” said Kalkidan Debele, a grade 11 student at Bishop O’Byrne High School volunteered at the event.

She wants to help other young people feel like they can appreciate their ethnicity.

“If you feel like you’re insecure of your background or your language, just know that there’s a place for you. You don’t have to change yourself. You are valued. You are important. Your beliefs are important. Your experiences are important,” Debele said.

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Dibora Mehari is a Calgary university student born in Eritrea. She’s on a mission to empower other Black immigrants, to help them ditch the “learned helplessness” she says keeps some people from achieving their full potential.

“We have this learned helplessness as a visible minority. If I come out in my freedom and live in liberty, not under this learned helplessness of a visible minority or the underdog mentality, I think that’s what they are facing — that kind of thing is a self fulfilling prophecy,” Mehari said.

Saturday’s event also included members of the Calgary Police Service, which organizers said will help minimize animosity between CPS and youth.

The Immigrant Outreach Society is hosting several more community events over the next few weeks as part of Black History Month.



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