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YouthREX co-presented this engaging, youth-led conversation on advancing the possibilities of youth-led organizing with Leading in Colour.

Youth civic engagement goes beyond volunteerism and political participation, and young people are taking leadership roles to amplify their voices and the experiences and issues that are critical to their peers. Recognizing and supporting this work is essential to engagement that facilitates positive youth development and authentic youth participation and advocacy.

Together, we explored:

  • why and how young people get involved in organizing;
  • what issues are driving their current activism;
  • the benefits of organizing for youth;
  • the limitations and possibilities of youth engagement; and
  • how adults can become allies in support of youth leadership.


This event was hosted and facilitated by Lidia Abraha, freelance journalist and YouthREX's former Communications & Digital Engagement Associate, and Robin Tonbazian, YouthREX's Research & Evaluation Associate. Our guests included:

The event also featured a live spoken word performance by Rare The Poet.

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Leading in Colour is a community organization exclusively by and for racialized youth under the age of 30. Our goal is to train young leaders in activism-based skills that they can use to advocate for themselves and their communities, through peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.

Host & Facilitator: Lidia Abraha

Lidia (she/her) is a digital storyteller dedicated to helping non-profits empower the communities they serve. She has a journalism degree from Toronto Metropolitan University and writes about social justice, arts, and culture. You can find her work in Rabble, NOW Magazine, VICE, and many more publications. She’s also managed digital projects for the UN Refugee Agency and Nia Centre for the Arts, and was a national reporter at The Canadian Press. As the former Communications and Digital Engagement Associate at YouthREX, Lidia helped animate our work through our various platforms such as social media, newsletters, and blog writing. She is now a Communications Coordinator at Blueprint, assisting with various research and evaluation projects meant to improve the lives of Canadians.

Host & Facilitator: Robin Tonbazian

Robin (she/her) is a Research & Evaluation Associate at YouthREX, supporting the development of youth programs focused on health promotion across Ontario. In her previous work, she has supported opportunities for wellbeing, play, and learning for youth as both a program planner and evaluator. She received her Master of Public Health (MPH) at Queen's University and completed her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto, double majoring in health studies and environmental studies with a minor in political science. Her research projects have focused on a wide range of topics related to reimagining healthy communities, including basic income pilots, expanding healthy community planning in York Region, and the impact of recreation and camp programs for youth with sight loss.

Habon Ali is a systems thinker who has been recognized as Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women (2021). She holds an MSc in Global Health from McMaster University and graduated as valedictorian from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelors of Science. Most recently, she was an intern with the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme where she learned about health policy while expanding her understanding of provincial politics. She was recently named a Schwarzman Scholar and will be attending Tsinghua University in Beijing to study Global Affairs. Habon advised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for over two years while creating Canada's first National Youth Policy. She furthered social innovation projects at MaRS Discovery District and Grand Challenges Canada. Currently, Habon is the chair of the Board of Directors at Apathy is Boring. She also works with the Future of Canada project, which provides seed funding to catalyze research that explores the possibilities for Canada in the next decade. She is passionate about removing systemic barriers for youth, especially youth from communities who were made to be marginalized and vulnerable.


Peter Cohen is a youth climate activist and has been a member of Climate Justice Durham since 2019. In his three years as an activist, he’s organized protests, debates, and fundraisers, and has campaigned for necessary climate policy at the municipal level. He was also a member of the Durham Regional Roundtable on Climate Change for its 2021-2022 term. Peter is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto and a business certificate at Durham College.

Serisha Iyar is an experienced workshop creator, facilitator, and curriculum developer building content for public education and private clientele. As a South African, Serisha draws from the teachings of the anti-Apartheid movement alongside liberation and womanist theologies. She serves as the Executive Director of Leading in Colour and sits on the Board of the UK's SustainED non-profit. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from McGill University in Political Science & World Religions and fellowships with The Mosaic Institute and Amnesty International. Serisha was the first Canadian awarded the Youth to the Front Fund by the We Are Family Foundation and, most recently, was named an Ontario Community Changemaker with 8 80 Cities and an inaugural North American Changemaker with ChangemakerXchange.


Sarah Jama is the Executive Director at the Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO). She is a community organizer from Hamilton, Ontario, with Cerebral Palsy who does work around combating anti-Black racism, policing, and housing insecurity. Through DJNO, she works to tackle systemic ableism by building up capacity in disabled organizers to challenge structures locally, provincially, and nationally. In her past role as Senior Program Coordinator at the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, she ran a Civic Leadership Program which sought to help Black and racialized youth to understand their place in working inside and outside of institutions to affect structural change.



Fae Johnstone, MSW, is a consultant, writer, and activist with over 8 years of local and national involvement in 2SLGBTQ+, feminist, and anti-gender-based violence advocacy. As the Executive Director of Wisdom2Action, she leads a diverse team undertaking local, provincial, and national initiatives in the areas of 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion, mental health, children’s rights, and violence prevention.


Caleb Yohannes holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto with a specialist in Architectural Studies and a minor in African Studies. Caleb actively works in the cultural production field, best reflected within the arts organization he founded and directs: 1919 Magazine. Outside of the magazine, Caleb leads a number of art and creative direction projects, ranging from music and video to academic journals. Caleb’s academic and personal interests centre the experiences and knowledge of Black communities that continually empower him to pursue the action-oriented community organizing work he’s passionate about.

Spoken Word Artist: Rare The Poet


Natalie "Rare" Chattargoon, better known as Rare, is a multifaceted Toronto born and raised creative. She grew up facing a lot of barriers and challenges throughout her journey that motivated her to strive for a better life. Her work explores social issues through poetry, photography, and film projects. Rare is truly a one-of-a-kind, so divine, and a hard-to-find individual.

JULY TO SEPTEMBER 2020


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