I grew up in a small farm village with a population of 500. This is one of those places where if you blink driving by, you miss it. As such, the term diversity was not a well-known concept. In fact, it was more of a myth you heard about on television or in the papers.
Due to these dynamics, I faced some struggles growing up and figuring out my place in society. Although I felt I had good relations with some of my peers, I still felt as though I didn’t quite belong. This inability to identify with anyone got to me on a personal level. My brother and sister were the only ones that shared my appearance, as even my grandparents who raised me were of Caucasian background. The only time I saw someone of the same race was in movies or on television. The only roles of African-American people I observed were those represented in the media – and in the media they were typically shown as criminals, athletes or music entertainers. I began to think that maybe any other career was impossible for people like me.
This began to have a detrimental effect on my behaviour, which reflected in my grades and attitude. Why try and work hard in school if I could not succeed in these areas? It wasn’t until I got involved with extra-curricular programs, such as the Boys and Girls Club, that things started to turn around for me. These organizations were outside my hometown and allowed me to develop relationships with encouraging mentors I could identify with. Programs and organizations like these are supported by United Way.
These programs allow youth, kids who struggle to find their role in society like I once did, the opportunity to encounter positive experiences and be inspired by positive role models. Ensuring that local youth can meet and interact with these mentors can help eliminate self-doubt, build a strong sense of belonging, and can have a significant impact on their lives. It’s extremely important for individuals to see themselves as a positive part of their community.This is one of the reasons I wanted to be a police officer – to allow the community to see someone they could identify with and to build strong relationships among community members.
Much of the impact United Way has on our community is about ensuring that children and youth feel they belong and that they’re supported to navigate both the challenges and possibilities ahead of them. It’s Big Brothers Big Sisters that helps create lasting, stable relationships between kids and adult mentors, to build their self-esteem, confidence and social skills. It’s Stevenson Children’s Camp that provides opportunities for youth from low-income families to experience an exhilarating week at summer camp, where they can foster meaningful friendships, connect with nature and learn to navigate their independence in a safe and supportive environment. It’s the Boys & Girls Club that offers holistic support for young people in an environment that encourages social inclusion, community connection and educational goal-setting.
I know firsthand the difference programs like these make in a young person’s life and that’s why I support United Way.
“It’s extremely important for individuals to see themselves as a positive part of their community.”