In 2004, three friends — Cecil Houston, then dean of the UWindsor Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; John Solarski, a high school guidance counsellor; and Dave Watkins, a history teacher at Weston Collegiate in Toronto — had a conversation about Black youth getting to university.
All had seen the need to help young Black students realize that they could attend university and do well. Their goal was to inspire young people through an intense learning experience that would encourage them to proceed to higher education. And the African Diaspora Youth Conference (ADYC) was born.
That May, the University of Windsor hosted the first mini conference. Eighteen years later, the ADYC continues to grow and thrive. In a normal year, students from Toronto would arrive on campus on Thursday afternoon, stay in residence, and be joined by students from Windsor-Essex and Detroit on Friday for conference sessions on campus all day. In the evening each group of 25 students would put on a short performance. After breakfast Saturday morning, the Toronto students would board their buses and head home. In 2019, the last year the conference was held in person, over 350 students attended.
This year’s conference will be attended by more than 200 students from 18 Toronto high schools, 16 high schools representing the public and Catholic boards in Windsor and Essex County, and eight schools from Metro Detroit that are part of Oakland University’s Project Upward Bound.
“There is so much that students can take from this experience,” says ADYC co-ordinator Fardovza Kusow. “They have an opportunity to get to know students from other cities, an opportunity to engage with university students, to meet and have conversations with facilitators and guest speakers. And apply themselves in a way they haven’t had a chance to previously through our workshops.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year the event will be a one-day conference, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, May 7, on the web conferencing platform Zoom with technical facilitation by information technology staff with the Toronto District School Board.
“The Toronto board’s technical experts have been exceptional to work with,” says Yvonne Zimmerman, special events co-ordinator in the office of the dean of FAHSS. “They have the expertise to keep a large number of breakout rooms secure and move participants and facilitators around virtually.”
ADYC is organized by a small group of faculty, staff, Ignite students, and volunteers. The conference chair is Andrew Allen, associate professor, Anti-Racism Pedagogies Teaching Leadership Chair. Kusow, a fourth-year psychology major, has also been a UWindsor ambassador, present on billboards, ads, and signage around campus. And new this year, the team includes a group of students from United Way's On Track to Success program.
“This conference is almost 100 per cent student organized. There is a group of three to four students we’ve hired through Ignite who are organizing the conference,” proposing speakers and activities, explains Dr. Allen.
“This is an opportunity for these students to develop their leadership skills and for them to plan a conference. It’s worked. Over the years we’ve seen these students learn to lead.”
Although virtual, this year’s schedule has maintained its elements of greatest impact. Attendees are assigned to teams with students from other schools, introducing them to other communities. The day includes keynote addresses by Khary Mason, a former homicide detective with the Detroit Police Department, and motivational speaker Jeff A.D. Martin. Students will rotate through breakout room workshops facilitated by faculty, educators, and UWindsor alumni who attended the conference when they were high school students. The University’s recruitment staff will take students on a virtual campus tour.
The icing on the cake is a bursary in the amount of $1,000 for students who attend the African Diaspora Youth Conference for any program of study at the University of Windsor.
For more information on the conference, and to watch a short promo video created by previous co-ordinator Crystal Bryan, visit https://www.uwindsor.ca/diasporayouthconference/.