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Debra Olaniyi

The diversity of black communities across Canada is rising. These communities are diverse, resilient, creative, and multifaceted, such that for the first time in Canadian history, there are over 1,000,000 Black Canadians who call Canada their home. This number is only expected to be doubled by 2036.

Such a rise in diversity surfaces challenges within the nation, especially associated with race, economic security, criminal justice, health, education, and the community as a whole. These challenges may continue to exist until black communities come together and collaborate in groups to affect change within the country.

Debra Olaniyi, the Associate Manager of Programs and Services, joined the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC)—for the sole reason to discuss these challenges that exist for Canadians of African descent nationally and advancing their overall social, economic, political, and cultural interests there.

Her journey hasn’t been easy. In an interview with Insights Care, Debra shares her thoughts on her contribution to fighting against racial injustice for Canadians of African descent and ensuring their safety, security, and overall diversity there. She aligns her steps and gathers courage by reminding herself of FBC’s mantra — “Stronger Together-Nothing About Us Without Us.”

Following are excerpts from the interview:

Kindly tell us the source of inspiration. What led you to serve the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC)?

As a current law student, I am passionate about facilitating a platform for young black women interested in legal work, amplifying the voices of those who are underrepresented in the legal system, and restoring a strong relationship between the legal system and BIPOC communities.

I started working at the Federation of Black Canadians as an anti-racism project coordinator, where I was able to contribute to the foundations needed to challenge and restructure institutions that are anachronistic in their representations of diversity and anti-racism from a national standpoint. This was achieved through the development of the Black Pulse, a digital anti-racism toolkit that addresses and educates the issues facing Black Canadians, as well as offers resources to support growth.

Brief us about yourself and shed some light on your role when participating in the interests of FBC. What services are you able to conduct daily?

I am currently a law student at the University of Leicester, and I have an Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto in Political science, sociology and women and gender studies. Pursuing these courses has amplified my work at The Federation by equipping me with the skills, resources and knowledge to conduct research and program/event development that serves our communities. I have previously sat on the Nobellum Student and Alumni Committee as the Co-Chair, where I was able to support the development of an Innovation aimed at supporting Black entrepreneurs. As an associate manager of programs and services, I often lead the development and execution of partnered events and programming such as Financial literacy, coding workshops, and much more alongside my amazing team.

Can you elaborate upon the core values, vision, and mission to which FBC aligns its operations daily? 

The Federation of Black Canadians (FBC) is a national, non-profit organization driven by Black organizations across the country. The Federation of Black Canadians advances the social, economic, political, and cultural interests of Canadians of African descent. The overarching mantra is that we are “Stronger Together – Nothing About Us Without Us.”

I can wholeheartedly say that working with FBC has made me realize how important it is to understand and learn your community’s wants and needs before delivering any events/programs. This is evident in our survey collection, community hubs, national partner meetings, and much more. We do believe in our mantra, “Nothing About Us Without Us.”

What priority areas in your opinion, do the black community in Canada struggle with at present? How can FBC work towards addressing the matter?

I believe career development, education and financial literacy are important areas in which the Black community can continue to grow. Over the past couple of years, I have seen growth in all these areas for the Black community and our allies. However, change doesn’t happen overnight, and I am optimistic about the promises that many corporations have made in light of the brutal murder of George Floyd in 2020.

I hope to see more of these changes or opportunities in the new year. There are many opportunities FBC is launching in the new year that will speak to these areas, and I urge everyone to stay connected or get involved to learn more.

What are some of the challenges you face when conducting projects and how do you turn them into opportunities for growth?

There is a lot of emotional management that comes with working for the Black community. Individuals share stories that are just heart-breaking. However, it pushes you harder to want to create programs and services that will alleviate the stress and burdens of being Black in Canada. Additionally, it’s important to understand that you will never please everybody, and you alone cannot solve all the issues. This is why having a dedicated team is extremely important and leaning on them has helped me grow in so many ways.

What advice would you like to give to budding enthusiasts who desire to participate in and serve the FBC? 

My mantra is “Be the change you want to see.” There’ve been so many opportunities and rooms I have been blessed to walk into because I woke up and decided to be the change I wanted to see. Start small, volunteer, attend networking events, and set up a meeting. Take whatever first steps you need to take and build up from there. Another piece of advice I would like to give is to be optimistic enough to try new things and think outside of the box; change isn’t made by being “realistic.” FBC is always open to welcoming new volunteers, speakers etc.

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