Panel members L-R: Jacquie Dixon, Ryan Knight and Nduka Otiono

Acknowledge Your Past, Empower Your FuturePanel discusses issues affecting Black community

by Olivia Barrett, Editorial Associate

Saturday 17 February 2024

Encouraging youth to strive beyond what the low expectations placed on them was at the forefront of NewLife Project Inc.’s panel discussion.

On Feb. 17, NewLife Project Inc. hosted the Acknowledge Your Past, Empower Your Future panel discussion with three community leaders: long-time public servant Jacquie Dixon, entrepreneur Ryan Knight and Carleton University’s Professor Nduka Otiono.

In addition to the event encouraging youth to network and make the most of the opportunities available to them, it also served as a celebration for NewLife Project Inc. being in Canada for 10 years. The organization has served communities in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie and Canada. It provides a wide array of services for the community, including programs for youth and women.

The speakers discussed barriers they faced in their careers in addition to discussing the importance of forming connections within the community. While the audience was filled with community members from various age groups, the three speakers geared their advice towards the youth to help inspire them to get involved in the community and look for opportunities anywhere they can.

Dixon, who worked as a public servant for 33 years and in the banking sector for six years, stressed the importance of making connections and setting your mindset to stay on track. “The mindset has to be: don’t get angry; step up and say ‘I can do what they’re doing,’” Dixon said, explaining that Black youth may face more adversity and have to work harder to prove themselves.

“You have to do things 10 times better and take it seriously because that’s how you survive in getting ahead and being recognized that you can do the job and move forward,” she added.

Knight, who is the co-founder of the Afro Caribbean Business Network (ACBN) and the African Caribbean Network of Canada, echoed Dixon’s sentiments, explaining some of the barriers Black organizations and businesses face, such as a lack of access to sustainable funding.

He discussed the importance for these businesses to find and secure this funding and widening their options beyond grants. “A lot of the time I spend is convincing entrepreneurs or businesses or organizational leaders that the money is real,” Knight said, explaining that while there is a lot of buzz around government grants, very few organizations actually access this money.

He added that the ACBN is helping these organizations with this by breaking down where the money is going, such as to loans and funding for the organizations such as the Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub at Carleton University. In addition to this, Knight said the ACBN is helping Black organizations look beyond grants to secure funding in other forms, such as partnerships, investments or a line of credit.

As a professor at Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies, Otiono’s discussion combined the advice from Dixon and Knight. He spoke about the number of unredeemed scholarships and the few specialized opportunities available for Black youth pursuing post-secondary education, adding that he wished he could share this money with students back in Nigeria.

Otiono also discussed the many opportunity available to Black students in Canada while explaining how some universities are now adopting programs to give students in African nations more opportunities. Otiono explained that Carleton University was to participate in a program that allows PhD students from African nations to conduct their research in Canada. “We’re fortunate that we were one of the 11 Canadian universities selected to host this program,” he said.

“We must acknowledge our past to be able to define ourselves and recognize the sacrifices made by our predecessors,” Otiono said while explaining the crucial role of education in helping the community move forward and create more opportunities.

NewLife Project Inc. founder Brenda Williams echoed the excitement for creating new opportunities within the community. She talked about the variety of programs offered through NewLife Project, such as French tutoring and sewing classes for youth as well as youth and mothers.