On Friday, May 13th over 350 Black high school students and their teachers, from 46 schools representing school boards in Windsor-Essex, Toronto, and Detroit, Michigan, logged on to Microsoft Teams for the 18th annual African Diaspora Youth Conference (ADYC). That’s about the same number of students who attended the conference in person on the UWindsor campus in 2019!
At some schools, students were in their classroom watching the conference on a large screen. In others, students logged in individually from home or school. On screen they could see two members of the ADYC student team welcoming them, and trouble shooters behind the scenes helping those having difficulty log in or connect to Teams.
Students were welcomed by University of Windsor President Dr. Rob Gordon, FAHSS Dean Dr. Cheryl Collier and Conference Chair Dr. Andrew Allen, Anti-Racism Pedagogies Teaching Leadership Chair, faculty of education.
The ADYC was the vision of the late Dr. Cecil Houston, former Dean of Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (FAHSS). The conference is still organized by FAHSS. This year’s theme was Dwennimmen: Strength, Humility, Wisdom, and Learning.
“Diaspora is almost in its 20th year, and it was way ahead of its time. The goal was to help young Black students realize that they could get to university and do well,” says Dr. Andrew Allen, conference chair.
The conference sessions create opportunities for dialogue with students who could identify with being part of the African Diaspora. The goals of the conference are to inspire young people through an intense learning experience that encourages them to proceed to higher education, whether at UWindsor or somewhere else. Over the years, more than 500 ADYC students have gone on to attend this university.
“The conference continues to seek, attract, and recruit students from working-class communities and/or first generation to go to university and has created a space for dialogue for students who are interested in or could identify with being part of the African Diaspora,” says Dr. Allen. “Based on student feedback, we are proud to have offered several thousand dollars in scholarship to attend UWindsor and inspired generations of young people through an intense learning experience that encourages them to see higher education as a part of their academic goals.”
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference has been held online. From 2004 – 2019 the conference was held in May on the UWindsor campus. Students stayed in residence and sessions and team-building activities were held in different buildings on campus.
Moving online, organizers have emphasized dynamic and engaging keynote speakers. This year’s speakers fit that description. Amina Abdulle is a Somali-born, Muslim Canadian educator, poet, and awareness builder. Abdulle has been working as an educator for over twelve years. She has taught English at the high school level, was the Department Head of ESL at Kennedy Collegiate, and is now the Teacher Consultant for Equity -- the first-ever, for the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB).
Abdulle struck a chord with students talking about her experience moving to Canada, learning English in elementary school, and not being treated as someone who could succeed in academics by her teachers, even though she had good grades, until one high school teacher changed her trajectory.
Abdulle also talked about reclaiming her name. Often students from other countries and cultures are encouraged to adopt a more Anglophone name in school. She told students to be proud of their name and help their classmates and teachers learn to pronounce it, rather than changing their identity.
One student commented in the conference evaluation, “She talked about the importance of names and taking ownership of who you are. This inspired me to be proud of my Asian heritage. It taught me that no one can take your identity away from you, and that you get to choose what path you want to take in life.”
The afternoon keynote, Jeff A.D. Martin is a soul-stirring, thought-provoking, highly requested transformational speaker, who has been using his platform to inspire people. Martin is a community advocate, an experienced police officer, a youth communication specialist, children’s book author, and award-winning professional speaker and coach.
Martin used storytelling to demonstrate Black students’ value and ability to succeed. In short, developing confidence in themselves.
In between the keynote speakers, students attended one of 15 different workshops which rounded out the morning. A group of dedicated facilitators ran the workshops. These presenters included: Kaityln Ellsworth, Marium Tolson-Murtty, Kaye Johnson, Patricia Okpara, Petra Owusu, Irene Moore-Davis, Leslie McCurdy, Larissa Dushime, Jeremiah Bowers-Vandusen, Mehari Hagos, Monty Logan, Venus Ola, Kenny Gbadebo, Hassan Adan, Emmanuel Tabi, and Adam Harris.
In addition, there were a group of approximately 10 teachers monitoring the various breakout rooms that were part of the workshops.
In another session they learned about applying to university, OSAP, and the $1,000 African Diaspora Bursary. To receive this Bursary students must attend the ADYC conference, then they must apply to the University of Windsor and be accepted to any program of study directly from high school. To receive the ADYC $1,000 entrance scholarship, students must apply in their first semester of studies at the University.
During the breaks between keynotes and workshops, the student organizers ran Google polls and Kahoot quizzes with prizes for students answering the most questions correctly. The games were competitive and demonstrated students’ engagement with the speakers.
The ADYC Conference is organized by five ignite students and 20 student volunteers. These students are mentored and supervised by Yvonne Zimmerman, special events coordinator in the FAHSS Dean’s office. In 2022 Kyra Ball and Rwan Galaleldin were the student supervisors with Binazir Haidari, Uche Njoke and Kola Osasona all assisting. This was Rwan’s second year working with the conference.
For Ball, the opportunity to work with alumna Fardovza Kusow, past student chair of the conference, during fall 2021 really helped her understand what the conference does and the detailed tasks that needed to be completed to set up the conference. The students used WhatsApp for chats during the months when unable to meet in person.
For Ball, a white student, the conference was eye opening. She grew up in a suburban neighborhood, the daughter of upper middle-class parents.
“I didn’t realize that our environment was not the norm,” says Ball. “When Amina Abdulle talked about educators not taking her seriously, I could relate. “
In high school and first year, her feelings of anxiety resulted in Ball being quiet in class and appearing shy.
“Then I took advantage of UWindsor’s Student Services and I learned to recognize my anxiety and had tools to calm it,” says Ball. “Believe it or not, the more I got involved at school, the more comfortable I felt, and my grades improved.”
Ball, one of the student hosts during the conference, found the keynote speakers passionate, engaging, and relatable. They both used different stories to tell students to trust in themselves.
All the Ignite students were assigned to a different workshop to help monitor (if students were having problems with the chat function to ask questions, etc.) Kyra watched Adam Harris’s workshop. He told stories of several Black historical figures who used a painful event to gain personal strength to persevere and reach their goal.
One of Ball’s tasks was to create a Google feedback survey for attendees to complete. Those who responded provided positive feedback. For example, 96% agreed that the conference covered material that is useful to them when deciding to go to university.
One ‘additional commentor’ wrote, “The African Diaspora Youth Conference was amazing, and it made me feel like I actually fit in. I loved everything about it!”
Updated: June 2, 2022