Find a centre near you... FIND HELP

F6-1: Culture of the North: BIPOC Youth Taking Action

Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Colour (BIPOC) youth in Northern communities face unique challenges in accessing cultural education. As a result, there are limited opportunities and spaces for BIPOC youth to learn and find empowerment in their cultural identities. There are also ongoing incidents of racism, discrimination, and hate-based violence leading to students feeling rejected, excluded, and isolated at school. The Culture of the North project sought to address these challenges through a youth-led project supported by Future North and funded by Pathways to Education and the Tamarack Institute. The aim was to determine the degree to which students in the Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin were engaging in cultural education and its impact on students that identify as BIPOC.

To investigate this, a research project was developed to examine the lived-experiences of BIPOC students in comparison to those of school staff and teacher college students within four school boards. By listening to the voices and lived experiences of BIPOC students, key barriers were identified, including the lack of representation, the politicization of cultural identities, and the prevalence of racism in classrooms. Using these findings, equity action teams were employed in 2 local schools to bring cultural education to all youth in an accessible, youth-led, and arts-based manner. Youth were provided the funding, training, support, and honoraria to carry out an arts-based project that reflected cultural education, identity, and acceptance. The theme of representation was also tackled with the implementation of 12 BIPOC libraries directly in schools.


Kerry Yang is a second year health sciences student at McMaster University, in the Child Health specialization. Growing up in Northern Ontario as a first-generation Chinese Canadian she often faced feelings of resentment, shame, and unbelonging when it came to her cultural identity. She found belonging in books, where she discovered titles with Asian representation over the pandemic such as “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee and “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. This was also a time when she found moments of reflection while making dumplings with her mom, on phone calls with her grandparents, and while watching Chinese TV dramas with her dad. Through this reflection and newfound representation, she also found a sense of empowerment in her cultural identity and sought to share it with other BIPOC youth. Since then her passion for advocacy has grown and she holds active roles in her university, home, and Northern communities.

Kamilah Francis is a Black first-generation university graduate who showed her five siblings that post-secondary education was not out of reach despite the barriers they faced. Her BSc (Hons) in Behavioural Neuroscience initially propelled her into working in the field of brain injury where she focused on advocacy, identifying and breaking down systemic barriers, resource navigation, and education. Kamilah is a change agent and visionary with a proven track record of designing and implementing highly effective initiatives. She is passionate about allying with marginalised populations and amplifying their voices. She interacts with all individuals through a lens of empathy and equity.



F6-2: Supporting the Mental Health Needs of Newcomer and Multilingual Students

Race-based data collected from mental health services highlighted that newcomer and racialized students were under-represented in school-based mental health supports. The school board created a team and began a series of focus groups in consultation with community members to gather an understanding of the barriers to accessing wellbeing services.

Youth indicated that they wanted our support in the following ways:

  • Support educators in learning about racism and its effects on student wellbeing
  • Increase knowledge for parents that stress and mental health is real
  • Create and provide information about wellbeing, in their first language so that the information was accessible

In conjunction with local immigration support services, the team developed a multi-pronged approach:

  • Translation of support service options into the home language
  • Parent workshops with translation services to share information about mental health and wellbeing, understanding stress and impact of stress
  • Focused PD for school staff and support staff about racism, understanding privilege
  • New resources and guidelines for schools to reduce impact of racism using evidence-based strategies and input from focus groups as well as community members
  • A series of more comprehensive training sessions for school mental health staff, adoption of School Mental Health Ontario’s Cultural Humility Tool
  • A six-month guided book study, self-reflection, training and facilitated dialogue for all administrators within the school board about race and white supremacy and its impact individually and systemically
  • Implementation of Supporting Transition Resilience of Newcomer Groups (STRONG), an evidence informed group intervention and support for Newcomer students


Sony Brar (she/her), MSW., RSW., is the Mental Health Lead and Senior Manager of Mental Health Services for the Wellington Catholic District School Board. Sony works closely with School Mental Health Ontario, and is the direct liaison for community partners among her many responsibilities. As well, she serves on the VTRA Regional Committee, is a member of the Board of Directors for Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Community Mental Health Collaborative, Rural Wellington Connectivity Table, Safe Communities, Wellington Drug Strategy, Growing Great Generations, Ensuring System Success, Single Point of Access to Residential Care (SPARC), and Village Finding, F&CS.

Jeff Warner (he/him) is the parent of three boys, all of whom have mental health challenges. He is one of the chapter leaders for Parents for Children’s Mental Health (Guelph), and a member of the Family Advisory Council for the Child-Parent Resource Institute in London, Ontario. He has spoken at numerous conferences about his family’s journey through the mental health system. Jeff has been an educator for twenty years, and is currently the Program Coordinator for Religion and Family Life, Equity Diversity and Inclusion, and Indigenous Education for the Wellington Catholic District School Board.e

Skip to content