Brampton NGO launches first mental health curriculum as part of basketball program

A Brampton community organization is launching a mental health curriculum program for Black youth to address issues with employment opportunities, access to education, and youth violence within Brampton.

Aspire for Higher Basketball, a nonprofit organization that provides basketball and leadership athletic programs to youth from ages 5 to 17, received $75,000 dollars which will fund the development of the mental health program.

“We focus on improving employment opportunities for Black youth, helping improve youth access to education, and decreasing youth violence within Brampton,” Abena Addo, executive director of Aspire for Higher Basketball, said. “We also have a big life skills component in this program and throughout the year where we have different mentors come in from the broader community to help youth.”

We take a lot of time to teach life skills to the youth, like effective communication, resiliency, and goal-setting, financial literacy, and professional opportunities, she added.

“A big part of our program is that no one gets turned away,” she said. “We use basketball as a tool to get youth into our program and it targets a specific demographic — usually Black, male youth.”

The funding was announced earlier this year as part of the Promoting Health Equity: Mental Health of Black Canadians Fund, part of the larger federal 2019 — 2022 anti-racism strategy.

Black youth have been at a disproportionate disadvantage for the last two decades, according to Addo.

“Whether it’s teachers telling them to go into a college stream because of academics or it’s the inability to get jobs because of their skin colour or their name, they are a disadvantage,” she added.

A report by United Way in 2015 on Black youth found that black youth in Peel were at a significant disadvantage because of systemic discrimination and a lack of culturally relevant programs and services.

According to the report, Black workers earned 76 cents to every dollar a white worker earned, Black youth were under-represented and underemployed in all areas of the workforce, 18 per cent of the Black population falls under low-income, Black youth are over-policed and racially profiled in schools, stores, and transit, and are overrepresented in Canadian prisons, even as incarceration rates have declined.

To address racial inequality and significant and unique challenges faced by Black Canadians the federal government allocated $10 million to Black Canadian mental health initiatives that will be administered by community organizations across Canada — one of which is Aspire for Higher Basketball in Brampton.

“In our research we see a lot of mental health issue indicators in athletes that we work with,” Addo said. “We provide leadership opportunities and positive role models and mentorship in our programs and now we’ve branched to incorporating a youth mental health curriculum.”

Over the first year the funding is being used to conduct further research about what youth [need] and bring different partners, such as mental health professionals to the table and facilitate dialogue on how to address the mental issues we see, followed by implementation of the curriculum, she said.

A lot of the issues seen with youth, according to Addo, is related to anger, poverty, and lack of positive role models, resulting in toxic views of masculinity in youth.

Youth feel like they can’t access our programs because their parents can’t afford it, so they stay quiet or don’t access the programs.

“A lot of the kids are very honest with us and say they’ve never seen something like this — a Black run organization in school or outside with positive Black role models,” Addo said. “They tell us it’s hard for them to see themselves as successful when they don’t have people teaching them who look like them and are successful.”

Thirteen-year-old Malachi Morgan is one of a thousand students who attended the basketball camp this summer.

“I love to play basketball,” he said. “What I like most is they provide a fun and easy experience to get better at the game that I love and when I’m older I’d like to attend the University of San Diego and play basketball for the (National Collegiate Athletic Association).”

Eleven-year-old Shylo Siziba is another youth attending the free program and wants to play for the Women’s National Basketball Association.

“I love this camp because we’re able to make new friends and collaborate with them.”

For more information on the camp and different programs offered, visit:

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