Speakers U is a program facilitated by Lance Constantine and designed to help young black males 18-29 years old living in the Ward 6: Etobicoke-Lakeshore area learn the art of storytelling. Youth learn storytelling through the framework of public speaking training and communication techniques, using the art forms of creative writing, spoken word, poetry, and monologues. For the 2018 ArtReach-funded round of programming, workshops ran from August to December 2018, serving creative expressions of allegory, and had a direct, personal and emotional impact on participants’ self-identity. Through the experience gained through workshop activities and ongoing weekly training, participants were able to coordinate a showcase event to present their works to a live audience.
When asked where he got the idea to put on Speakers U came from, Lance tells us, “The idea of the Speakers U program originated from the desire to help people learn the art of speaking and overcome their fear. Statistics say that 41% of people rank public speaking as their #1 fear, nearly double the 19% who said death! On a whole, our mission is to ensure every speaker is trained and empowered to speak with confidence”.
In 2018, ArtReach became the first funder for the Speakers U program, which had been running since 2012. Funding allowed the program to hire youth, and Lance shares that it has also provided more credibility with external stakeholders such as Humber College, Black Owned Unity & CBC News.This has allowed the program to gain traction and expand into the successful organization it is today. Lance has big goals for the Speakers U, “I see the Speakers U program expanding into new satellite locations around the world: Canada, America, Asia, Africa & Europe”.
Lance was able to provide us with insight on how youth participants have reacted to the program, mentioning that, “The youth have responded with great appreciation and gratitude to the Speakers U project. In February we hosted a follow up brunch meeting with the men from the program to see how everyone has been doing since completion. One highlight of that meeting was from Prince, a Speaker's U 2018 Alumni, who mentioned that since being a part of the program, his confidence has improved and his delivery in poetry has got a lot stronger. As a result, he is now enrolled into a National Slam Poetry competition to represent poets in Canada!”
The Speakers U program has made an instrumental difference in the lives of the young men it serves, but also has been making change more broadly in the community. Lance shared, “The biggest change I have seen this project make in the community is through the dialogue on The National & CBC News with the Speakers U 2018 program participants about racial profiling. The black men in the program got an opportunity to exercise the public speaking skills and techniques they learned through the program on a national level”.
Through being the facilitator of the Speakers U, Lance has also able to build and develop new skills. He mentioned that, “This project supported my own individual skills as a leader, and one of those skills is the power of leverage. I learned how to systemically leverage support from other leaders in the community who believed in my project by allowing them to provide input in the decision-making process for the program on a whole”.