Deangela Provo knows what it means to play on an unlevel playing field.
“I think that some of the barriers Black youth are facing when it comes to finding employment — and meaningful employment at that — is resources,” the 17-year-old told Global News.
The Toronto teen is one of many Black youths facing social and economic barriers in Canada — barriers that advocates say are rooted in systemic racism. “A lot of communities lack the resources and the accessibility for youth — sometimes it may be distance or affordability, if there are fees involved.”
Fees for organized sports, for example, or for advanced education, but a new National Basketball Association (NBA) program aims to give Black youth a leg up in overcoming barriers to success.
“Food insecurity, housing, you know if we look at social assistance reform — that needs to happen,” said Agapi Gessesse, executive director of Career Education Empowerment (CEE) Centre for Young Black Professionals. The Toronto organization’s mission is to help Black youth in priority neighborhoods achieve financial prosperity.
“There are so many barriers that are at a policy level that are preventing our Black youth from upward mobility,” Gessesse said.
A labour market snapshot from Statistics Canada, based on a three-month average ending May 2021 shows that racial gaps persist in employment rates — with 26 per cent of Black youth in this country unemployed — almost twice the rate of their non-Black counterparts (at 14.8 per cent). When it comes to competing for and accessing meaningful employment, Black youth are also at a disadvantage — with data from January of this year, revealing that one-third (33.2 per cent) of Black Canadians are living in low-income households — nearly double the rate of non-visible minority Canadians (16.6 per cent).
Looking to change the game and close the racial wealth gap, the NBA Foundation — the league’s first-ever charity — is awarding a $500,000 grant to the CEE Centre.
“We know far too many times our Black youth don’t have the opportunities around skill development, meaningful employment, mentorship and the like,” said Greg Taylor, executive director of the NBA Foundation.
“The purpose of this grant to CEE really is about those outcomes. We know they have a tremendous reputation in preparing and placing young people of colour in meaningful employment and we’re just really excited to partner with them.”
Gessesse says the financial boost will play an instrumental role in improving the futures of racialized youth, particularly in Toronto and Montreal.
“Black and Indigenous communities are overrepresented in all the wrong places, and we want to flip that coin,” said Gessesse. “We want to be represented in all the right places, we want to be represented in leadership, we want to be represented at board levels, we want to be represented in management, in IT.”
CEE Centre will administer the grant in partnership with MLSE LaunchPad in Toronto and DESTA Black Youth Network in Montreal, to deliver supports to Black youth. That includes providing personal development and skills training in industries like business, tech, arts and sports.
The grants will fund training and opportunites that according to Taylor, will lead to sustainable jobs.
“What happens historically is our young people from this community end up in retail or food service or health-care and there’s honour in all work, please don’t get me wrong — but we know these industries are hyper-local and hyper-vulnerable,” said Taylor.
The grant will also be used to increase full-time employment in the sports and recreation sector through MLSE LaunchPad’s Leader-in-Training (LIT) program — a program that has already changed Provo’s life.
“MLSE prepared me for the workforce because now I have a job at MLSE on their members’ service team,” said Provo.“[The Leader-in-Training program] was a really motivating experience for me because it showed me how many jobs are out there with people my skin colour –and a lot of female-led jobs are out there as well where women are taking roles that are in athletic fields and that was very empowering for a young woman like myself.”
While she is grateful for the NBA’s investment in her program, Provo is calling on other Canadian organizations to put their money where their mouth is.
“If it wasn’t for organizations like the NBA and what they’re giving back to the communities, we wouldn’t have programs like the LIT program,” said Provo. ” We need more people to put money out to invest in the young communities and the young people in the communities, because we are the future.”