With an alarming rate of Somali-Canadian men gunned down over the summer, York South-Weston MPP Laura Albanese felt compelled to address the issue with her constituents, many of whom come from the African country.
The Somali Youth Policy Conference, held Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Learning Enrichment Foundation on Industry Street, brought together some 125 people from the Somali community in York South-Weston to discuss hurdles facing young people and how to combat barriers.
Conference attendees were divided into groups to discuss five key topics: the Youth Action Plan unveiled in August by Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s former children and youth minister; education; narrative research; families; and hidden, which addressed issues that aren’t always talked about such as mental illness or addiction.
The Youth Action Plan focuses on giving young people the support they need to succeed and keep communities safe.
“The Somali community seemed to be particularly hit by violence of their youths,” Albanese said, adding half a dozen young Somali men have died since June. “I had been asked by some members of the community what I could do. I thought of bringing everyone together.”
After discussing it with Hoskins, Albanese said he was hoping to organize the same type of conference with the Somali community, but on a city-wide level. That conference is scheduled for this month at a date to be determined, as Albanese would like the new minister of children and youth services to attend. Hoskins resigned from cabinet Friday, Nov. 9 to enter the Ontario Liberal leadership race.
Access to jobs and after-school programs in York South-Weston are paramount in helping Somali youth succeed and avoid a life of violence, Albanese said.
“We talked about the cultural clash between youth and parents, the role of fathers,” she said.
“The conference was aimed at discussing challenges faced by the younger generation in the Somali community. They need better opportunities through skills training, education, jobs. We need to pay some special attention to that community because of the incidents that have taken place. The community calls it a crisis. They don’t understand why so many young people are leading their lives this way. (The conference) was a first step and I’m pleased the community came together.”
Muse Kulow, publisher of Immigrant Post Magazine and a key organizer of the Somali Youth Policy Conference, said a lot of newcomers don’t talk about the problems facing their children, such as gangs and violent lifestyles.
“We wanted to educate the community and speak loudly of the problems,” he said.
“How can you get help if you don’t talk about it? We need after-school programs, we need youth outreach programs, we need youth workers, we need mentoring programs.”