Youth reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic and vision for future
by Stacy Dunn
Claire Byrne says the pandemic renewed energy to create programs that may not have existed before at the Black Cultural Society of PEI, where she is a part of a team of community organizers.
“The combination of everyone being inside for many months and the growing Black Lives Matter movement kickstarted many projects the Society wanted to work on in the fight for racial justice,” she says. “During that time, funding became more accessible for youth programming. Our challenge before the pandemic was finding sustainable funding for our programs.”
She was part of the team which started the Society’s Girls’ Group for BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Colour) girls ages 5 to 15 in Charlottetown. This group met virtually and in-person when safe to do so and offered after school and summer programs. Claire says funding is continuing for the after-school program this year.
“We had two groups with 10 BIPOC girls in each group that met every week. The groups became safer spaces to connect and process what was happening during this pandemic and gain support going through the school year.”
Claire’s comments were part of the recent Atlantic Summer Institute on Healthy and Safe Communities 2021 Policy Forum on Health Promotion. Its theme was The Great Reconnect: Building Personal, Community and Societal Resilience in our Post-COVID-19 World. She spoke during the Youth Panel, which shared personal reflections on COVID-19 and visions for the future.
The three-day virtual conference brought together professionals in areas such as healthcare, social work, community advocacy, and public policy. They discussed ways governments, educational institutions, community organizations, and the private sector can raise awareness of the importance of mental health in children and youth and make investments in programs and services to support mental health.
“It was special to see new friendships created in this group and great moments happened where the girls helped each other with coping skills going into the new school year amid the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic.”
Claire says families of the girls involved appreciated the group’s work in making connections. “My hope is for this group to continue to grow and reach other youth across the Island. We see the necessity of this group, and we would like to keep up the momentum. We also talked about any bullying or racism they may have seen or experienced.
“Our girls’ group has shown that sharing lived experiences gives people a sense of relief. You walk into a safe space and your sense of the world is understood. This isn’t happening in other places, like at school.”
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