First-of-its-Kind Black-led, Canadian Research Program Aims to Build a Success Pipeline for Black Youth by Showing Them They Belong at University

May 15, 2022

Black education experts Annette Henry, Kisha McPherson and Anika Forde among leading line-up of speakers at Congress 2022, Canada’s largest humanities and social sciences conference, taking place virtually May 12-20

Vancouver, B.C., May 15, 2022 – Black students are more than capable of higher learning, yet one factor preventing them from achieving academic success is the fact that they still don’t ‘see’ themselves in that world.  

That’s the preliminary finding from a first-of-its-kind Black-led, pan-Canadian research program that is aiming to break down barriers and offer equitable pathways to academic achievement for Black youth across the country. For the first time, a Black-led team of senior researchers is getting an unprecedented opportunity to collect and study data through a uniquely Canadian lens, and what they’re learning is that Black youth still feel alienated from this country’s post-secondary educational environments, said Professor Annette Henry from The University of British Columbia and one of five Project Leads involved in the groundbreaking national initiative: Securing Black Futures: A National Partnership to Advance Youth Academic & Career Success.  

Securing Black Futures, which launched in October 2021 and is backed by a $1.2-million RBC foundation’s “Future Launch” program, brings together an all-Black team of experts, postdoctoral researchers and research assistants from five universities under the direction of Carl E. James, the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora at York University. Over the next three years, each participating campus will be implementing student support initiatives aimed at helping Black youth to imagine themselves in post-secondary education, and will be collecting data about their experiences as secondary and undergraduate students in a first-of-its-kind national database.  

The five Project Leads consist of Kevin Hewitt (Dalhousie University), Juliet Daniels (McMaster University) and Jennifer Adams (University of Calgary), Annette Henry (University of British Columbia) and Carl James (York University), who spearheaded the project. The national research and data hub will be housed under the Jean Augustine Chair, bringing the team’s work together in a central repository of data to provide the first broad-based educational and social profile of Black youth in Canada. A primary goal is to document the lived experiences of Black youth as they navigate secondary school and university life, and to gain a deeper understanding of factors that lead to their academic choices, opportunities and success, as well as decisions and factors contributing to dropping out or transferring to college.  

Henry will be joined by Anika Forde, research project manager for the Jean Augustine Chair and the overarching project, and Kisha McPherson, assistant professor in the School of Professional Communication at Toronto Metropolitan University, as featured speakers at the upcoming Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress 2022), Canada’s largest academic gathering and one of the most comprehensive in the world, taking place virtually this year from May 12-20.  

Billed as a leading conference on the critical conversations of our time, Congress 2022 serves as a platform for the unveiling of thousands of research papers and presentations from social sciences and humanities experts worldwide. With more than 6,000 visitors expected to log in, the event focused on reimagining the future following two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and other life-altering world events, with the goal of inspiring ideas, dialogue and action that create a more diverse, sustainable, democratic and just future.  

“One of the things that’s sorely lacking in Canada is data on Black youth,” said Henry, noting that researchers are left to rely on American findings that don’t accurately reflect the situation here. “We have this terrible stereotype from the deficit model in the U.S. that every Black kid is poor and struggling. Some are, but it’s really clear in the data we’ve collected so far that middle class kids also face the same systemic barriers and challenges when it comes to pursuing their educational goals,” she said. 

UBC was first to kick off its program last fall, working collaboratively with five local school boards to bring a group of Black high school students together for monthly mentoring meetings, both in person and virtual, so that they could experience university life firsthand and hear from successful Black undergraduate students, and professors. Henry said in just eight months, the program’s impact has already been life-changing for many. 

“It has really opened their eyes to what’s possible,” said Henry, noting that some students said they hadn’t planned on attending university but now see it as a viable option. “When you’re not in the dominant group, it’s tremendously powerful to see other people who look like you,” she said, referring to their opportunities to meet other Black peers and adult mentors. 

“We need to address the endemic issues within the educational system itself,” said Forde, noting that the program’s findings are expected to inform better public policy.“In Canada, we do a really good job of knowing how many Black students aren’t graduating or aren’t attending university, but we’re focused on identifying the supports Black students need,” said McPherson, who was involved with UBC Black Futures this year, and is launching a university to college data component to the overall project. 

This summer, Dalhousie and McMaster will kick off immersive summer camps to expose more Black youth to opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and the University of Calgary will be engaging young Black scientists to actively lead similar community activities and camps, helping to allow students to envision themselves as scientists and develop a passion for it. 

Henry said she has already noticed a sense of comfort among the students participating in the UBC program, and a willingness to ask questions they might not otherwise. “They’re finally seeing the vision of ‘I can do this, I can be this person’ and not feeling so alienated,” she said. “Unfortunately we don’t live in a just and equitable society and sometimes we have to put in measures to make sure everyone has equal opportunity. Black students can – and will – reach heights unknown if given the right opportunity.” 

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress 2022 is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Mitacs, SAGE Publishing, Universities Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and University Affairs. 

Registration – which includes 100+ keynote and open Congress 2022 sessions (with recordings available until June 3, 2022) – is $55. Visit to register for a community pass and access the program of events open to the public. Enter code TRANSITIONS2022 for 10% off registration. 


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