It is a rainy afternoon In March, but the BGC St. Alban’s Club’s activity room is filled with the vibrant energy of teenagers attending an after-school homework club. Ten youth between the ages of 14 and 16 gather around the facilitator who introduces the discussion topic – racial discrimination and human rights. Most of the youth have experienced discrimination. They share accounts of discrimination at school, in stores or during police encounters. For the next five weeks, this group of young people will meet twice a week and learn about their rights, how to access legal support, and develop the legal life-skills necessary to navigate legal issues they may encounter. They will do this through scenarios, games-based activities, roleplaying, and discussion.
These youth are part of a multi-session pilot program offered by OJEN. Funded by the Department of Justice Canada’s Justice Partnership and Innovation Program, this program delivers culturally relevant public legal education programs for racialized youth in Ontario. It addresses some of the common legal needs of African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) youth and Indigenous youth. Before it wraps up in 2026, it will engage between 270 and 360 youth between the ages of 14 to 29 in urban communities throughout the province.
The project builds on research that OJEN undertook in partnership with Calibrate Solutions for the Department of Justice in 2020 and 2021. The study examined the impact of serious legal problems on 16 to 30 year olds in Black communities in Toronto and Ottawa. The findings were published in the Voices Matter report. It provided a window into the complex ways in which legal problems impact the lives of racialized youth living in urban communities. It highlighted how legal problems intersect with other areas of life, negatively impacting health, finances, education, trust in government services, and general sense of belonging in society.
OJEN, with over 20 years of experience developing and designing youth-focused justice education initiatives, is a leader in the field of Public Legal Education (PLE) for racialized youth and youth living in vulnerable communities.
Listening to youth and youth workers was the first step in designing justice education programs that respond to community needs. Through a comprehensive needs assessment, a range of common legal issues were identified. Justice education modules will focus on issues youth are most interested in. This includes workplace problems, consumer and debt issues, police encounters, racial discrimination and human rights.
One of the keys to OJEN’s success in connecting with racialized youth audiences is hiring youth from within the community to assist in all stages of programming. The Youth Leadership Team is a vital conduit to their communities, providing knowledge and perspective that inform program design, delivery and evaluation. Four Youth Leadership Team members are currently working on the PLE for Racialized Youth project.
In addition to the program at the BGC St. Alban’s Club, it will run in communities throughout Ontario including the Greater Toronto Area, Peel, Durham, Ottawa, Sudbury and York Region.
“I really enjoyed the program and the impact it had on youth. Especially my pre-teens and youth in the beginning stage of highschool. This type of programming will structure prevented thinking and morals based on their views and ways of living which may bring more positive and better outcomes for their future success.” – Marcella Fowles Education Manager, Weston Mount Dennis & Lawrence Heights Club