This blog post was provided by Scott Clyke from DESTA Black Youth Network.
I’m sure that many of you will agree that 2020 was one of the most challenging years in recent memory. The arrival of COVID 19 not only put the physical health of millions at risk, but threatened employment, food security, education, the health care system and our mental health — all at the same time. In addition, that universal stress laid bare existing racial inequalities and economic disparities, barriers that had been glossed over for decades.
From its earliest incarnation, DESTA has shed light on these socioeconomic gaps, and tried to bridge them by working very closely with the Black community. Initially, the pandemic handily crippled DESTA’s ability to follow through with our mission, as it did to many institutions and organizations blindsided by a then emerging wave of lockdown uncertainty. Today, I’m very happy to welcome you to 2021, where DESTA has not only been able to answer the evolving needs of the community we serve, but also grow and expand the services we can provide to those who need our support. Based in Montreal’s south-west community of Little Burgundy, the DESTA Black Youth Network supports Black individuals between the ages of 18 to 35 to help them reach their educational, employability, and entrepreneurial goals.
About our Work at DESTA
DestaNation Tech is a series of workshops offering free skills training and mentorship in web development, graphic design, digital marketing and business development, while also providing job placement services, entrepreneurial support, networking events and more. The goal is to help participants overcome employment barriers faced by English-speaking Black youth in the city of Montreal.
A 2016 study on Canadian tech workers found that only 2.6% of the tech workforce were Black, and that Black employees were the lowest paid. Black tech hopefuls have a harder time breaking into the tech domain with career aspirations, and English-speaking Black candidates face further challenges in the tiny universe of Quebec. DESTA provides support for those wanting to go into business for themselves, or looking to benefit from experienced professionals who can provide valuable insight and guidance in their career of choice. Many Black entrepreneurs try to make something on their own because they don’t see themselves represented in the job market, so being able to support them in their long and short term endeavors is key. This program has enjoyed new life, migrating from pre-pandemic weekly events in the basement of DESTA, to its temporary online home of Zoom interactions, seminars and exchanges.
The program has also given birth to the DestaNation Creative Agency, through which participants have an opportunity to work on contracts procured by DESTA and our growing network of partners and collaborators. The Winter Cohort for DestaNation Tech begins in February of 2021.
Part of the DESTA Education Program facilitates pairing Black students with tutors and educational resources to successfully complete their high school diploma, made possible through our partnership with the English Montreal School Board and their distance learning program (DEAL). DESTA also aims to support individuals who have vocational and post-secondary goals, and during the last six months we’ve been looking for new ways to contribute to the long term change we’d like to see in the Black community.
One of these contributions is the creation of the DESTA Scholarship Fund, a reserve benefiting 8-10 students a year based on financial need, academic achievement, community involvement, leadership skills and dedication to their goals. Many students already have all the tools they need in order to succeed academically, but our aim is to remove any financial barriers to education that might exist in that process. As many of you know, education is a very important part of empowerment, opening doors and avenues that were previously unavailable. With continued support from the Cole Foundation and donations from the general public, the DESTA Scholarship Fund will be accepting applications this spring for ongoing support throughout the 2021-2022 academic year.
DESTA Food partnered with Union United Church’s Food Bank in the summer of 2020, introducing food delivery to a community rocked by the pandemic. Since then, the program has seen weekly groceries delivered to upwards of 85 families, and given way to partnerships with Quebec based organic Afro-Carribean farm, Jardin Lakou. More recently, DESTA Food’s Community Pop-ups logically combined the entrepreneurial resources of a chef-designed small business incubator, with the platform of a once a month pop-up, delivering gourmet meals to families in need. We know that while the restaurant community is in crisis, through this program, DESTA Food seeks to embody our mission of supporting Black entrepreneurs in an industry experiencing the brunt of COVID restrictions, while also feeding those who need our help. We believe that there is a path forward for food entrepreneurs who are tenacious, innovative and see the immense opportunities that this global shift presents. DESTA is here to ensure that Black businesses, and therefore Black generational wealth and self-reliance, is strengthened by these trying times. Successful graduates will receive a $1,000 microgrant, access to further funding, and join our BLK Food Network, a team of collaborators we will book for future events and festivals.
DESTA also remains committed to the support of Black youth with its re-entry program, and has recently launched a Black Legal Action Fund, which will be used to pay for the legal expenses of those with demonstrably legitimate cases of appeal. The fund will also go towards supporting those coming out of incarceration, to help them reintegrate into society.
While DESTA continues to serve the community, we’re always trying to expand our knowledge and network, so that we can better achieve our mission. We do this with the continued support of individuals and organizations who understand the importance of the work that we do.