Tamia was only eight-years-old when her mother Martika began the process of signing her up for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto community-based mentorship program. As part of the intake process, Tamia spoke to one of the BBBST intake specialists who would organize her match. Tamia asked the intake specialist, “can my Big be Black?”
Martika was surprised that her daughter had brought that up, “we had talked about it before [requesting that her Big be a Black female] but when she said it, I was caught off guard,” Martika said. “They [the BBBST intake specialist] said that they would do their best to match her with a Black woman.”
“It was very important to me,” Martika recalled. “I think it’s really important for their development as a young person.”
According to the Ontario Mentoring Coalition, it’s important that racialized youth are mentored by a racialized person in order to learn culturally and racially appropriate coping skills that can help develop a positive ethnic and racial identity. The development of a positive ethnic identity can help combat barriers and systemic oppression in place against racialized people. The OMC also stated that shared life experiences such as growing up racialized can help improve the credibility of the mentor in the mentee’s eyes.
In a study by Rhodes (2002) it was noted that Black mentees who interact with Black mentors who have achieved success in their life can achieve greater academic achievement.
In January of 2020, just before the global pandemic began, Tamia (now 11) was matched with her Big Alicia: a Black woman. Martika remembers the first time they spoke. She mentioned how thankful they were that Alicia was Black. According to Martika, Alicia was very glad that her mentee was a young Black girl as well.
Tamia’s Big Alicia is a film director from Scarborough. According to her biography on her website, her work is dedicated to featuring unique stories of Black women and the underrepresented. Her latest film, Pick, won the Canadian Screen Award for the Best Live Action Drama (2020). Alicia’s success in her field offers Tamia representation of a Black woman in the arts.
The importance of representation in racialized communities and the Canadian workforce directly impacts the success of a young person. An article published by Leslie Woo of the Globe and Mail this February indicated that Black students in Toronto are over 10 per cent more likely to drop out of school compared to white students. Woo contributed that to the fact that there are 50 per cent fewer Black teachers than expected based on population demographics in Canada. According to Woo, a study found that having a Black teacher (representation) can decrease the probability of Black students dropping out of school by 29 per cent.
Representation is also disproportionate for racialized people in the workforce. Black leaders hold less than one per cent of executive roles and board seats at major Canadian companies which can be attributed to a lack of opportunities due to systemic racism in the workplace. Lack of representation can result in unconscious bias and systemic lack of opportunity for racialized people.
Alicia started sharing music videos that she was working on, and clips from films that she was making with Tamia, sharing her success with her.
“She was opening up more about this stuff [film and the arts] to Tamia, and Tamia was interested in hearing about it,” Martika said. “I think that’s also been amazing for her because it’s right along her [Tamia’s] artistic side. It’s been great that she’s been able to see a Black woman in that role and that she’s been able to do it [be successful].
Martika believes strongly that having a Black role model in the arts will open several doors for Tamia.
“A lot of the things she’s into she doesn’t get to see people who look like her in that role. She could see that this is possible, she’s [Alicia’s] doing it!