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Conference aimed at inspiring Black youth returns to Wilfrid Laurier University


A panel of professionals from different careers spoke to about 250 Black high school students on Friday, part of the Beating the Odds conference put on by Wilfrid Laurier University’s Black Student Association.

“I just want Black folks to know that we can be represented in so many different ways,” panelist Keosha Love said. “Our experiences, our passions, our choice of careers can be so different and so diverse. It doesn’t have to look like one thing.”

Love works at Toronto Metropolitan University and is creating that school’s first ever all Black conference. She said Laurier’s event is paving the way for other institutions.

“They're definitely leading the way for Black spaces and Black conferences like this, and this magnitude,” Love added.

Keosha Love, a panelist at the Beat the Odds Conference at Wilfrid Laurier University on Feb. 9, 2024. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

This year marked the 19th time the event has been held in Waterloo.

“A couple years ago, there was about 100 students max, and now we’re filled to full capacity,” Meron Mehari, the director of the Beating the Odds Conference, said.

The event included workshops and presentations meant to empower and inspire the students. Organizers said one key aspect of the conference is the importance of networking.

“We wanted the students to kind of see where they could potentially end up. And that every path looks different. The panelists kind of highlighted that really well in terms of showing that their path wasn’t linear,” Mehari explained.

Organizers said the event continues to grow, and while the message has mainly stayed the same since it started, it has changed a little bit.

“It's grown to be better and stronger for a more diverse outlook. So it's not necessarily: ‘Hey, we want Black students to get into post-secondary.’ It's more so we want them to excel and be empowered once they do get there,” said Mehari.

A high school student at the Beat the Odds Conference at Wilfrid Laurier University on Feb. 9, 2024. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

Students also were exposed to different cultures and traditions. They learned dances from different Black communities and got to sample food like rice and peas, jerk chicken, beef patties and samosas.

“This is something new, something that, again, they were obviously excited about. So why not get their taste buds going? Especially if that's not a food that they’ve had before,” Mehari explained.

Students at the event said they learned a lot throughout the day.

“I’d love to hear more about their careers, or where they’re going. It helps me feel inspired about my own career,” Petra Lumnwi a Grade 12 student from St. Mary’s High School, said.

“I've learned a lot, that I can take control of what I want to do. And not have to be set back by boundaries and things,” Lia Mekuria, another student from St. Mary’s High School, said.

A high school student at the Beat the Odds Conference and Wilfrid Laurier University on Feb. 9, 2024. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

“The university’s a community. I didn't know there were so many events like this,” said Seedi Avdellahi, a Grade 11 student from St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School.

Not only is it an engaging event that gives students an opportunity to learn more about career options, but it’s also a chance to meet other people from the community that have a similar background.

“I don’t have many Black teachers. My school is very diverse, so I am around people who understand me. But, [in terms of] teachers and adults in my life, I don’t have that much in my school community, so it’s good to have the day here,” Nivah Whilby, a student from Resurrection Catholic Secondary School, explained.

Organizers said they continue to try and grow the event each year, so they can reach as many Black students as possible and inspire future leaders. Top Stories


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