Speakers U program
Funded previously by ArtReach in 2018, Speakers U is a program designed to support young black males aged 13-29 living in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore who are interested in learning the art of oration. Through this program, participants use several art forms, such as writing, spoken word, poetry and monologues, to create their own personal artistic story.
Speakers U offers developmental opportunities through workshops that cover topics such as anti-racism, activism, media etiquette, freestyle rapping, self-care, financial literacy, and more. These workshops ensure that youth are gaining new skills relevant to their artistic, personal, and professional development.
Support is provided by several Speaker's U alumni who were brought on to facilitate, evaluate, and mentor participants while providing public speaking guidance and personal development tips. This aspect of the program consists of vocally recording youth after each workshop and giving them feedback so they can track their growth and utilize the skills learned in the workshops. Many guest speakers, such as CFL legend Damon Allen, were also brought in to help participants develop their allegorical stories.
Speakers U was created due to the need for high quality, engaging community arts programming in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore area and the ongoing racial issues that impact black youth. As explained in their application, “racial profiling is at an all-time high and this affects black men psychologically. Our program is designed to address this problem, by giving young black males a voice to address racial profiling by police, and also empower them to develop their own sense of agency and personal power”. They add that, “effects of racial profiling include post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of anxiety and stress-related disorders. Perceptions of race-related threats often lead to an inability to access available community resources, and we are here to change that”.
Speakers U gives the space for participants to discuss current issues with an honest and critical lens, and these discussions led to youth being able to express, process and release deep seated experiences of discrimination through their art.
Due to pandemic-related restrictions, Speakers U had to adapt and run their program fully online. Despite the challenges that come with running virtual programs, they were able to execute a very successful program.
Speakers U saw this move to a virtual program as an opportunity for growth and development, as they are now able to utilize an online space in addition to any onsite training for future projects. When discussing the transition to a virtual space, they explain that “Modules were adjusted to accommodate the online world, and some workshops (such as the Eye Contact and Facial Expressions) actually benefited from being online due to constantly being on video. Such techniques became an asset for communicating through the online world”.
Speakers U was able to develop through the pandemic and received extremely positive feedback from youth participants who were happy to still be able to participate online and not lose out on any aspects of the program.
Meet Speakers U
Since their inception in 2012, Speakers U have fostered the success of their students through personal development workshops and public speaking training. They pride themselves in training and equipping program participants with the connections, resources, and coaching needed to launch businesses, movements, and initiatives. Their work has also reached several overseas communities through grassroots teams who have championed the program in America, Jamaica, Pakistan, and South Africa.
This iteration of Speakers U was led by Camille Gordon and Lance Constantine. Camille Gordon, originally Speakers U photographer and videographer, took over the role of Program Coordinator and Administrator, bringing her extensive artistic and program experience to the position, while founder, Lance Constantine continued to be a Program Coordinator and Facilitator.