Olayinka Animashaun

Olayinka Animashaun, Executive Director , Niagara African Caribbean Culture Organization

Saturday 20 January 2024

Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you? Helped form who you are today? Your parents, friends, school?

My name is Olayinka Animashaun, I was born in Erusu Akoko, Ondo State in Nigeria into a family of six, while I was the oldest in the Banjo Abayomi family. I was raised in Christian home and I attended St. Louis girls’ grammar school a Roman catholic secondary school in Akure, that was runs by white reverend sisters who thought us the ways of life. My parent sent me to the boarding school so I can learn how to be independent as girl child. At an early age I was used to the western ways of approach and culture. Kindness is my parent watch words while we are growing up and up till now, that is we should always be our brother’s keeper.

When did you come to Canada, what made you decide on Canada?

I came to Canada in 2015 because I am a victim of domestic violence. So, I flew to Canada for safety.

What is your educational background?

I have college diploma in community service worker from Trios college in Hamilton.

What is your daytime job?

I am an entrepreneur, I have my owned business that I operate in Canada and in Nigeria.

You are currently Founder and Executive Director of the Niagara African Caribbean Culture Organization (NACCO). Can you describe your organization and the role you play?

As a Founder and Executive Director of the Niagara African Caribbean Culture Organization (NACCO). My role is to make sure our African Caribbean community is not underserved by reaching out the right service provider. This organization service the refugees, asylum seeker, new immigrant, international students and everyone that is classify as African Caribbean blacks, by supporting, celebrating, educating and embracing them through our culture and helping them integrate into Canada system, culture and ways of life. We also help the Canadian understand the newcomers through diversity inclusion programs.

What are the major problems faced by newcomers to Canada? Are the problems faced by refugee claimants different than those faced by people with study permits or permanent resident cards? How so?

Refugees face the barriers differently because of their cultural background, status and inexperience of the Canadian system. While others with work permit or residence card face the barriers because the Canadian employers sees them as over qualified or not qualified at all, due to language and skills.  And in terms of access to jobs, studies have shown that racialized individuals, including Black Canadians, experience higher rates of unemployment and underemployment compared to their white counterparts. Furthermore, they may also face discriminatory hiring practices and barriers to career advancement, which can contribute to inequalities in the job market.

What motivated you to start a movement to assist and support newcomers?

I started this organization based on the needs of all the people that were reaching out to me for help, as someone who can listen and help sort their need by referring them to the right service that fits their immediate needs.

Various news outlets have reported on the plight of new refugees sleeping on the streets, on sidewalks and so on, even in winter. Have you experienced this in your region? If so, how did the authorities address this serious problem?

We are on top of such situation in Niagara region as Niagara region and IRCC are working day and night to make sure everything is fine with the newcomers by providing temporary solutions to the shelter problems. Right now, most of our refugees are in hotels in Niagara Falls.

In practically all of Canada, there are serious shortages of affordable housing. Some analysts blame this shortage on what they perceive as the excessive number of refugees entering Canada. How do you respond to this claim?

It’s important to approach this issue with empathy and understanding, as discussions about housing shortages can be complex and sensitive. While it’s true that population growth, including immigration, can put pressure on housing availability, it’s necessary to consider a range of factors that contribute to affordable housing shortages. Immigrants often contribute to the cultural, social, and economic vibrancy of Canada, and they too face challenges in finding suitable and affordable housing upon their arrival. Blaming immigrants for housing shortages may oversimplify the issue and may lead to unfair scapegoating.

When addressing affordable housing shortages, it’s important to consider a holistic approach. This might include:

1. Community Engagement: Encouraging open conversations and engagement with community members, housing advocates, and representatives from various cultural backgrounds to foster understanding and collaboration.

2. Policy Review: Assessing housing policies to ensure they support the needs of all residents, including new immigrants, and exploring ways to increase affordable housing options.

3. Investment in Housing: Advocating for increased public and private investment in affordable housing initiatives to address the overall shortage without singling out specific groups.

4. Supportive Services: Providing support services and resources to help newcomers navigate the housing market and access appropriate housing.

5. Collaborative Solutions: Encouraging partnerships between government, non-profit organizations, and private developers to create a diverse range of housing options.

By adopting an inclusive and collaborative approach, it’s possible to address housing shortages in a way that benefits all members of the community, including immigrants. It’s essential to foster an environment of understanding while working together to find sustainable solutions.

How do you find time from your day job and other commitments to assist and support newcomers to Canada?

I do both jobs comfortably because seeing the smile on their faces brings me joy, and with the help of our volunteer expertise, we are able to serve them. Most of this service are within my reach as NACCO practices social enterprise.

As an individual, what do you consider your biggest achievement and what has been your biggest personal challenge? In your work, family life, volunteer work?

My biggest achievement as an individual is seeing our ACB folks settled and also watch NACCO grow in Niagara region as our services to the ACB newcomers continue to increase day by day. My biggest challenge funding to support the organization as different demand to service keeps increasing.

Looking at Canada’s Black communities, what do you see as our biggest challenges? Crime, unemployment, school dropouts, other?  How do we overcome them?

The biggest challenge is unemployment, I understand that addressing unemployment within the black community is a crucial challenge. One potential way to work towards overcoming this issue is through targeted employment initiatives and support programs from organization like NACCO. Here are some strategies to consider:

1.Job training and skills development: Establish programs that offer job training, skills development, and career readiness workshops tailored specifically for members of the black community. These programs could focus on in-demand industry sectors, such as technology, healthcare, or green energy, and provide participants with the skills and certifications needed to enter these fields.

2. Partnerships with employers: Work on building strong partnerships with local businesses and corporations to create pathways for employment opportunities for the black community. This could involve creating internship programs, apprenticeships, or entry-level positions designed to provide on-the-job training and potential long-term employment opportunities.

3. Entrepreneurship support: Offer support for aspiring black entrepreneurs by providing access to resources, mentorship programs, and small business grants or loans. This could help individuals to start and grow their own businesses, thus creating job opportunities for themselves and others in their communities.

4. Community-based job fairs and networking events: Organize and promote job fairs and networking events specifically targeted at connecting members of the black community with potential employers. These events could provide opportunities for direct engagement, networking, and interviews.

5. Advocacy for fair hiring practices: Advocate for fair and inclusive hiring practices within local businesses and organizations. Encourage companies to adopt diversity and inclusion policies, and to actively recruit and retain black talent within their workforce.

6. Education and awareness: Provide education and awareness campaigns within the black community about available job resources, educational opportunities, and career pathways. This could include workshops on resume writing, interview skills, and financial literacy.

It’s important to approach these initiatives with sensitivity, understanding, and a genuine commitment to addressing the systemic barriers to employment faced by the black community. Collaborating with community leaders, stakeholders, and the individuals most affected by unemployment will be essential in developing effective and meaningful solutions.

In the years since you’ve been in Canada, have you seen the situation of Blacks as changed for the better: more access to jobs, social inclusion etc.

The efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, advancements in anti-discrimination legislation, and community-led initiatives have contributed to positive changes. However, it’s important to recognize that there is still much work to be done to ensure equitable access to opportunities and to address systemic biases and discrimination. It’s essential for both the government and society as a whole to continue working towards creating a more inclusive and equitable environment for all members of the Black community and other marginalized groups. This includes advocating for policies that address systemic inequalities and actively promoting social and economic opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their background.

Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?

“Unity, resilience, and cultural richness define the vibrant African Caribbean community in Canada.”