Interactive online conversations featuring youth workers, young people and researchers

“Lacking vital literacy skills holds a person back at every stage of their life. As a child they won't be able to succeed at school, as a young adult they will be locked out of the job market, and as a parent they won't be able to support their own child's learning. This intergenerational cycle makes social mobility and a fairer society more difficult.” (National Literacy Trust)

To celebrate International Literacy DayYouthREX and The Reading Partnership co-hosted a conversation about the importance of literacy learning that centres the cultures, histories, and identities of Black communities.

Literacy programs for Black children, youth, and families respond to the systemic discrimination that youth and their families experience in the education system that leads too many youth to disengage from school. Literacy programs that centre the voices and experiences of Black youth can ignite their imagination and foster a sense of possibility.

This conversation, co-moderated by Cyril Cromwell and Kathe Rogers from YouthREX, showcased the work of The Reading Partnership, a literacy-focused program for children and families in the Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park neighbourhood of Scarborough, and Black Girl's Magazine, created by and for Black girls by Black Youth Write. Opening remarks were provided by award-winning placemaker and author Jay Pitter.

Our expert panel included:

  • Camesha Cox, Founding Director, The Reading Partnership
  • Annette Bazira-Okafor, Editor/Founder, Black Girl’s Magazine & Founder, Black Youth Write; YouthREX Fellow
  • Pauletta Wandja Dika, Past Participant, Reading Partnership for Parents Program
  • Joanne Marcano, Past Participant, Reading Partnership for Parents Program
  • Tana Turner, Owner & Principal Consultant, Turner Consulting Group

This event also featured two live performances from award-winning spoken word artist, writer, and facilitator Amoya Reé.

Relevant Resources:

Camesha Cox, MEd, Founding Director, The Reading Partnership

Camesha is an award-winning educator and social innovator whose practice straddles the worlds of community development, education, and the arts. She is an Ontario-certified teacher, with over a decade of experience designing and delivering local and international school and community-based literacy intervention programs and educational resources. Camesha is the Founding Director of The Reading Partnership – a Toronto-based charity focussed on promoting and improving literacy in low-income, high-potential communities – and has been recognized for her work as a recipient of the Province of Ontario’s Leading Women Building Communities Award, as well as the Toronto Foundation’s Vital People Award.

Camesha serves on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of East Scarborough and the Canadian and African Business Women’s Alliance. As a member of the United Way Greater Toronto’s Speakers Bureau, she spends time sharing the importance of investing in Black-led, community-based initiatives to high-level donors.

Camesha holds Bachelor of Commerce and Education degrees from the University of Windsor; a Master of Education from the University of Toronto; a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo; and a certificate in Executive Nonprofit Leadership from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Camesha is committed to using her passion and expertise as a catalyst for change in communities, with a goal to make her city a better place to play, learn, and live for all.

Follow The Reading Partnership on Twitter and Instagram.

Annette Bazira-Okafor, Editor/Founder, Black Girl’s Magazine & Founder, Black Youth Write; YouthREX Fellow

Annette is the founder of Black Youth Write, a non-profit organization that works with Black youth to write and create content for publication for other kids and youth. She is also the founder and editor of Black Girl’s Magazine and Teen Black Girl’s Magazine, two publications written and created by Black girls from the ages of 8 to 17. Black Girl’s Magazine publications are currently in over 200 public and school libraries.

Annette holds a PhD in Social Justice Education from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

Follow Black Girl's Magazine on Twitter and Instagram, and follow Teen Black Girl's Magazine on Instagram.

Jay Pitter, MES

Jay is an award-winning placemaker whose practice mitigates growing divides in cities across North America. She spearheads institutional city-building projects specializing in public space design and policy, forgotten densities, mobility equity, gender-responsive design, inclusive public engagement and healing fraught sites. What distinguishes Jay is her multi-disciplinary approach, located at the nexus of urban design and social equity, which translates community insights and aspirations into the built environment. Jay has used this urgent, evidence-based expertise to shape numerous city-building projects in over 25 cities including: working with Westbank to preserve intangible cultural heritage and expand engagement during the Honest Ed’s redevelopment project in
Toronto, leading the (RE)IMAGINING Cheapside Confederate monument placemaking process in Lexington, and applying a gender-responsive design lens to the redevelopment of Granville Bridge in Vancouver.

Jay is currently the Infrastructure and Equity Lead for the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative (CHCI), a federal investment to support communities as they deploy new ways to adapt spaces and services to respond to immediate and ongoing needs arising from COVID-19. She has developed an equitable planning certificate course with the University of Detroit’s Mercy School of Architecture, a women in city-building course with the University of Toronto, an Engaging Black People and Power course spurred by the murder of George Floyd, among others, and was the John Bousfield Distinguished Visitor in Planning at the University of Toronto. Her forthcoming books, Black Public Joy and Where We Live, will be published by McClelland & Stewart, Penguin Random House Canada in 2021.

Learn more by visiting Jay's website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Pauletta Wandja Dika, Past Participant, Reading Partnership for Parents Program

After working in the wireless corporate industry for 18.5 years as a manager, Pauletta changed directions and started to pursue her true passion in Social Work. Pauletta has a passion for working with vulnerable communities, especially serving youth who are marginalized. She really is motivated to help others achieve their true potential and discover the best version of themselves.

She will graduate from Seneca College in June 2022, earning her Social Service Worker diploma, and thereafter will pursue a Bachelor degree in Social Work at York University. Pauletta has completed professional training in evidence-based therapeutic approaches, as well as practicum placements providing counselling services to individuals, couples, families, and groups.

She currently works in the Social Service Worker public sector; when she is not working, she enjoys spending time with her 5 Lily Flowers (five daughters between the ages of 1-7-years-old), and reading, writing, and spending time outdoors.

Joanne Marcano, Past Participant, Reading Partnership for Parents Program

Joanne is a first-generation Black Canadian woman and mother of two daughters in the elementary school system. Joanne was raised in a single parent home and learned the importance of advocacy and education. She is a pillar in her community and participates in initiatives that help support her community to grow.

Joanne has worked for five years in the Developmental Services sector on a specialized community team. Most recently, as the Co-Founder and Chair of the organization's Anti-Racism: Black Cultural Awareness Training and Consulting Group, Joanne has advocated for and contributed to content for Black History Month at her organization, including multiple high-level discussions with leadership to ensure the organization continues to break down systemic barriers that our racialized communities have faced.

She is committed to creating an anti-racist society for BIPOC Torontonians, including children and families, and wants to see her community reflected in all spaces.

Follow Joanne on Instagram.

Tana Turner, Owner & Principal Consultant, Turner Consulting Group

Tana is owner and principal consultant of Turner Consulting Group. She is a researcher, consultant, and advocate for social justice and systems change and has worked in the field of equity, diversity, and inclusion for over 30 years. In her current role as a consultant, she helps organizations assess their equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts and supports their ability to hire a more diverse workforce, create a more inclusive working environment, and deliver services that meet the needs of a diverse client population.

Follow Tana on Twitter.

Amoya Reé, Spoken Word Artist, Writer & Facilitator

Amoya is a Jamaican-Canadian performance poet and 2018 Canadian National Champion. Her writing is rooted in her lived experiences as an immigrant, mother, and community worker. Exploring the cultural significance of things like race, mothering, and love, she often blends historical fact with present realities, making for a poetic experience that is both informational and inspirational.

She began exploring performance poetry in 2008 and since then she has shared her stories in classrooms and boardrooms across Ontario. Affectionately known as Reé, she sat as captain of the 2018 Toronto Poetry Slam team who were semi-finalists at the National Poetry Slam in Chicago and went on to win the Canadian National Championship in Guelph, Ontario. She has had featured performances at the coveted When Sisters Speak (2019) and at Toronto Poetry Slam (2019). As the Artistic Director of KTV Media, a virtual production enterprise that promotes Black art and excellence, she lends her talents to producing, directing, and hosting virtual arts events and initiatives. Reé was recently crowned the 2021 Toronto Grand Slam Champion and is currently working on her debut collection as a 2021 project grant recipient from both the Ontario Arts Council and the coveted Canada Council for the Arts.

Learn more by visiting Reé's website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


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