02 Jun Changemaker Spotlight: Updates from #OCChangemakers Serisha Iyar, Moka Dawkins and Jessica Amponsah
Ontario Community Changemakers is a fellowship and micro-grant program for young civic innovators with bold ideas to activate public space, enhance civic engagement and foster social inclusion. This program is powered by 8 80 Cities and funded by Balsam Foundation. Visit ontariocommunitychangemakers.org to learn more.
Serisha Iyar is an experienced workshop creator and facilitator and Executive Director of Leading in Colour, a community organization exclusively by and for racialized youth under the age of 30 with the goal of training young leaders in activism-based skills that they can use to advocate for themselves and their communities, through peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. With that experience under her belt, it was a natural fit to use the Ontario Community Changemaker grant opportunity to create Solidarity Sessions, a panel dedicated to unlearning internalized oppressions, led by and created for racialized peoples.
The goal of Solidarity Sessions, a program of Leading in Colour, is to educate on the issues of oppression and its implications alongside validation and action designed to promote cross-cultural community solidarity. Over the past six months, Serisha has kicked off an inaugural Solidarity Session focused on anti-Black racism and the two upcoming sessions will focus on Xenophobia, anti-Indigenous Racism and more. The goal of the sessions is to identify tangible actions that can be taken to create a network of active allies, and cross-cultural learnings and to dismantle oppression in all its forms.
Serisha’s passion for empowering racialized peoples has already been recognized by the global organization Changemakerxchange, which has named Serisha the inaugural North American Changemaker.
Over the next few months, Serisha is planning a total website overhaul and social media branding update to make all content produced more accessible and captivating. Serisha also hopes to continue providing school supplies and financial support to low-income students and newcomer families as they build their lives in Canada. The sky is the limit for Serisha and we look forward to seeing her change-making work grow in all its forms.
For more information on Leading in Colour, follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and check out their website.
T-Time Love Care Package Program
Moka Dawkins is a Black & Indigenous Trans woman from Toronto, Ontario who has been a caregiver to her local community. As a 2-Spirited and Trans woman, she has been able to gain a strong understanding of the systematic barriers that have been put in place that have prevented her community from prosperity and achieving equitable livelihoods within Canada’s borders. With her lived experience, Moka established her not-for-profit organization T-Time Tips Productions which was created out of a need to connect Trans, 2-Spirited, Queer, and Non-Binary people going through hormonal transitions within Canada and around the globe.
Over the past six months, plans were underway to create “Love Boxes” that consisted of a collection of transitional items for Trans identified inmates that were living in Canadian prisons. While Moka was able to secure seed funding through Ontario Community Changemakers, she has been continually seeking further financing to ensure the number of financial supports needed to lift the project off the ground. While looking to secure further funding for her project, she has had to pause it until she can generate more funding that can ensure her security in the fluctuation of resource products that go towards aiding inmate populations.
While Moka has faced some financial challenges, she has been able to establish a new location in Toronto for T-Time Tips Productions. She has also been an active instrument in her community for procuring food security for those facing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this service, Moka has been focused on facilitating food outreach to people facing homelessness within the LGBTQ2S+ community.
In the next six months, Moka is looking into connecting with Pride Toronto and Global Pride to secure further funding either through grant or sponsorship opportunities which will help fund her work and get her project off the ground. Her focus will be on obtaining a steady financial stream that will stabilize her organization to provide a steady number of resources that can aid her target community.
Jessica Amponsah, a 27-year-old Ghanaian Canadian, is a Medical Esthetician and entrepreneur with a passion for all things health and skincare. During her high school experience, Jessica had friends and peers from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and occupations. She loved going on micro trips outside of the community that allowed her to meet and learn from others and explore Toronto and Ontario from a fresh perspective.
OURTARIO was born out of her own observations as Jessica found that many people are confined to their communities based on a lack of diversity, dynamic social engagement, and awareness. These barriers prevent the use of accessible assets such as public spaces, open resources, and other amazing communities. Therefore, OURTARIO is an initiative that leads a variety of excursions, activities and outings centred around exploring Toronto’s public spaces for people in priority neighbourhoods. “This may not sound like anything interesting (because people do this all the time), but as an African Canadian growing up and living in priority neighbourhoods/communities, some of the activities I have experienced are not common within my community. In fact, some of my experiences within Toronto and surrounding communities are completely unknown to many others in the same demographic areas as me,” explains Jessica.
In the first 6 months of OURTARIO, they were able to register about ten participants and go on five excursions (i.e. the beach, Niagara Falls, bouldering, and canoeing). The project allowed Jessica, her team, and participants to meet new people, overcome the fear of heights, discover new adventures and new locations, and most importantly, build connections.
The impact of this program has focused on human connection and nourishing your inner child. “Human connection brings so much value and positivity into our lives. Relationships give us a sense of belonging and are also therapeutic for some of us,” expresses Jessica. With the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals have been robbed of interactions with their support systems. Self-care is important in these times thus, Jessica and her team have decided to host an activity once a month to help Black, under-served youth and women cope with these changes and decrease their feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. A lot of the activities contribute to emotional and mental health and creativity which will aid in social inclusion and engagement shaping a stronger, inclusive Ontario.
Jessica faced challenges while organizing the program such as budgeting, finding participants, and contacting businesses for proper pricing. She overcame these challenges by outreaching and obtaining information from mentors and facilitators through other business programs that she attended. Jessica also benefited from the relationship she built with her peers at Ontario Community Changemakers (OCC).
For the next six months, the project will focus on building stronger relationships through business-to-business (B2B) and transportation companies to make organizing and planning trips easier and more cohesive. To achieve their plans of larger outreach, they plan to create a Black-led outing group that attracts the target audience to feel comfortable and relatable to do new activities and have new experiences for the first time. Social media will play a vital role when creating a point of contact, sharing, and advertising their initiatives and experiences. Jessica plans to develop a core admin group that plans and prepares outings activities, travels to various places such as farms, trails, beaches, fishing, parks, and candle-making, and provides services that support barriers to participation such as financial, transportation, and food.
“We believe that once our target audience breaks through the initial barriers of experiencing new outings, adventures and activities it will cause a snowball effect that will result in: Sharing their experiences with others, increase social engagement, instill pride in confidence as a resident of Ontario and much more,” says Jessica.
For more information on OURTARIO, follow them on Instagram.