The Youth Voice in Ottawa – In Conversation with King Kimbit
by Kika Otiono, Associate Editor
Every Monday evening, there’s a small buzz of activity in the basement of the Main Library at Metcalfe. Situated in a room by the stairs, students and facilitators alike sit around a table laughing, sharing stories, and writing. This the atmosphere of the YouthSpeak mentorship program, organized by the Urban Legends Poetry Collective (ULPC) in partnership with the Ottawa Public Library. Currently held only at the Main Library, YouthSpeak is a free drop-in program intended for students below the age of 19 as a safe space for them to explore poetry and performance as a platform for expressing their ideas, thoughts, and perspectives.
After volunteering for YouthSpeak, I wanted to learn more about the program from its coordinator, and to hear her reflections on the impact it has had on the students involved. Known throughout the city by her stage-name, King Kimbit has served as the coordinator for the program since September 2017 and works closely with the librarians at Ottawa Public Library. However, sitting with KingKimbit at Carleton University felt less like an interview and more like a conversation. I’ve known her for three years as a passionate poet, writer, speaker, leader, and friend.
I asked Kim about the purpose of YouthSpeak, and why it matters that such a program exists. Together, we felt as if its most important service is as a forum for youth in Ottawa to dedicate time to writing and performance. YouthSpeak does so by emphasizing discretion; they simultaneously provide a completely welcoming environment, while prioritizing security from harsh expectations or adherence to social norms. In other words, youth are encouraged to discuss the difficult and traumatic experiences they face without judgement, unless there is concern that they might hurt others. Or as Kim puts it, it’s a space for students to “just be.”
For the past two years, YouthSpeak has delivered one showcase per year around spring, but Kim hopes to expand this to two showcases a year. She and I agree that it is important that these initiatives and spaces exist, for numerous reasons. Every single individual has their fair share of experiences, traumas, ideas, fears, and ambitions. However, youth are in a particularly vulnerable time in their lives where they feel so much but are silenced for these feelings. As young writers, it is difficult for them to authentically express their perspectives without judgement from adults or social constraints – and these are often connected. I cannot emphasize enough why it is important for us to support, fund, and uplift programs such as YouthSpeak as a critical space in our community for young adults to grow and flourish artistically.
Perhaps Kim puts it best: “We are their caretakers. It is our responsibility to let them know that they have a space to just be and to express themselves. To grow into themselves.”
If you’d like to volunteer or partake in activities with YouthSpeak, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or their Facebook Page.
About the writer
Associate Editor Kika Otiono is a 3rd year student in Carleton University’s Humanities and Biology Combined Honours program. She currently works as Student Researcher in Carleton’s Department of Biology, for which she was awarded an Undergraduate Research Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). She has won numerous awards for her writing, academic distinction, and community involvement. Kika is an avid reader and lover of rock bands, Broadway musicals, and sci-fi movies. If you would like to submit an article to Black Ottawa Scene or have other inquiries, you can reach Kika directly at email@example.com or www.linkedin.com/in/kikaotiono/.