For today’s Charitable Choices we spoke with Agapi Gessesse, the Executive Director of CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, an organization founded by Dr. Kofi Hope in 2012 here in Toronto.
Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.
The CEE Centre For Young Black Professionals is a Toronto based charity that is dedicated to addressing the economic and social barriers that affect Black youth ages 14 and over who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET).
What problem does it aim to solve?
Our mission is to create a society and economy in which Black youth achieve financial prosperity and high quality of life for themselves and their families to contribute to the advancement of Canada.
CEE offers an intensive 6 weeks-8 month program to improve careers, education and empowerment (CEE) that are holistic, person-centred, culturally relevant/responsive, informed by industry standards and augmented by a wrap around social support model.
When did you start/join it?
I joined CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals in July 2018
What made you want to get involved?
In my last role I was becoming exhausted by the tiptoeing around the issue of anti Black racism and the need to name it and claim it in order to see real change and not performative Allyship.
I decided wherever I was going to put my energy in next would be a place where I could be unapologetic about it. I wanted to serve the Black community and help break down any barriers young people were facing that was prohibiting them to unlock their full potential and CEE was the perfect place!
What was the situation like when you started?
When I came to CEE, I was impressed by what former Executive Director and co-founder was Dr. Kofi Hope was able to create as a foundation for CEE.
The basis of CEE’s philosophy and pedagogy comes from community and the realities Black youth face. My job now was to take what he left behind and hone in on how to leverage what was working and create strategic opportunities for Black youth to enter into the labour market with high paying jobs that offer upward mobility.
How has it changed since?
Since I joined, we have graduated a record number of members, garnered a 92% retention rate, identified 5 major labour gaps and offer 16 programs (7 of which are new). We have also strengthened our sector leadership which allows us to support 150 3B (Black lead, Black serving, Black focused) organizations in partnership with NABC (the Network for the Advancement of Black Communities) with capacity building and also have created a new pillar to the organization that being policy. This allows us to address policies in Government and corporations that prohibit our young people from upward mobility.
What more needs to be done?
The need to offer programming that supports workforce development and systems navigation for Black youth is growing. Though we have made some progress for which we are grateful there is still much work to be done. According to statistics the unemployment rate for Black youth in Toronto stands higher than any other racialized group. This is simply not acceptable. The problem is not a people gap it’s a skills gap and that’s what we are aiming to do offerings programming in the 5 labour gaps which we have identified i.e. Social Services, Entertainment, Hospitality, Trades and Technology.
Thanks the generous support of TD Bank and the $650k grant we received through the 2020 TD Ready Challenge, we’ll be able to fund Recovery, Healing & Resilience – a program which will aim to build the adaptive capacity, system leadership and collective infrastructure of 150 Black-focused, Black-led and Black-serving (B3) groups and organizations to recover, heal and be resilient across Canada. The RHR project will lay the foundation for a resilient Black Canadian community ecosystem for the next three years. In context of the pandemic and anti-Black racism, there is the urgency to build the adaptive capacity and system leadership of B3 groups and organizations to foster recovery, healing and resilience.
This project is especially important as B3 organizations need to continue to exist and to offer programs and services to the Black community at a time when there are already significant barriers to access supports as well as increased vulnerability to infections.
How can our readers help?
We are always looking for financial contributions to continue to offer our programming as well as the wrap around supports needed to keep youth engaged through our programs. In addition, we are always looking for program and employment partners who are willing to offer paid work to our members.
If you are interested in supporting our organization we encourage you contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you have any events coming up?
CEE Celebration is the event of the year. This year it will be held in December. In the meantime, we are looking forward to hosting other events virtually over the summer months. So please stay tuned for more soon! Right now, we are in Black History Month and our goal is to honour and celebrate Black people old and new with our #Blackhistory365 campaign. To learn more, follow us on Instagram
Where can we follow you?
On Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook at @ceetoronto or join our newsletter at ceetoronto.org
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
Well I love CEE and by extension I love all of the amazing B3 organizations that we continue to trustee across the GTA. May they continue to prosper with the support we are receiving from TD bank and beyond. For details, please visit https://Blacktothefutureto.com/