Against All Odds

PhD Candidate in Sociology starts popular program for racialized students

By Nick Ward
Photos by Akintunde Akinleye

“Often, I see Afro-Caribbean Black youth who are going through the same social oppression that I went through and this motivates me to do the work that I do,” says Warren Clarke, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology. “I want their youth experiences to be less harsh than my youth experience.”

Clarke is the founder of The Afro-Caribbean Mentorship Program (ACMP) at Carleton University, a program which he established to support the success of Afro-Caribbean Black and other racialized undergraduate and graduate students on campus.

Established in 2018 as the first program of its kind at Carleton, the ACMP is an initiative that acknowledges that explicit and implicit racism exists in academic spaces.

“Its purpose is to work in a relationship of solidarity with all community members, of all ethnicities, to curtail the severity of racism and discrimination that seeks to disrupt the social and academic development of racialized students,” says Clarke.

The overarching mission of the ACMP is to create an inclusive Carleton campus space while concurrently fostering academic success. Additionally, the ACMP has the extended objective of encouraging students to become confident, empowered citizens long after they graduate.

The necessity of the program is demonstrated through the immediate and enthusiastic response it received from countless Carleton students.  Clarke and the ACMP team quickly learned that they required high-capacity rooms for their signature events, which were receiving hundreds of attendees.

students at an ACMP event

The ACMP’s second annual More Than Networking Event.

The Afro-Caribbean Mentorship Program (ACMP) at Carleton University

The Afro-Caribbean Mentorship Program (ACMP) Team, current and past

  • Sonia Bizimana – Executive Director of ACMP, University of Ottawa student
  • Humphrey Nartey – professor at Yorkville University
  • Peter Holder – 2nd year doctoral student at Carleton University
  • Nicolette Vardon – 4th year Carleton undergraduate student
  • Jipreet Kaur – 4th year Carleton undergraduate student
  • Sarah George – 2nd year master’s student at Carleton University (IAS)
  • Abdilla Shuriye – 4th year Carleton undergraduate student
  • Ahmed Abdi – Carleton student alumnus
  • Olivia Atsin – 2nd year master’s student at Carleton University (IAS)
  • Lindsay A – 1st year Carleton undergraduate student
  • Stefan Spence-Clarke – 4th year Carleton undergraduate student

“The ACMP focuses on events such as financial literacy, networking and establishing healthy relationships.  These discussions not only help students to further their academic and professional careers but also give them a safe space for community discussion,” explains Clarke.

On January 24th, 2020, the ACMP held an important gathering of over a hundred students and community members from Ottawa and Toronto titled Changing the Narrative, Open Group Discussion on the Black identity in Ottawa.

The next such event to be held by the ACMP (this time in partnership with The Royal Bank of Canada) will occur during Black History Month on February 28th at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre. Entitled Empowering Our Future. The event will pay homage to the Afro-Caribbean Black Canadians, such as Viola Desmond, who paved the way for many Canadians.

“Although the sense of remembering and reflection tends to happen during Black History Month, we should be vigilant to not only focus on our past,” says Clarke. “Instead, we should be open and willing to also empower Afro-Caribbean Black Canadians in our contemporary moments, so that they, too, can positively pave the way for racialized Canadians for years to come. “

The program has been a resounding success so far, but Clarke wants it to keep growing and keep bringing knowledge and hope to young people who face the threat of falling by the wayside in a prejudiced system.  Clarke, himself, has lots of experiences with such hazards.

“My time as a young person was not easy, and there have been moments in my life where I did not see the value in education, nor did I understand my potential. Instead, I believed the opinions of those who perceived me as being a failure.”

In high school, Clarke was once matter-of-factly told by a teacher that he would not be successful, and that university was not for him. Now, well on his way to completing a PhD under the supervision of Sociology’s Dr. Jacqueline Kennelly, he credits mentorship and community support as essential in helping him overcome these lofty barriers. The experiences he has had of becoming empowered through the support of others is what led him to create the ACMP – an entity which nurtures these connections – in the first place.

“Seek a mentor, if you do not already have one,” says Clarke. “I have many people who I would consider mentors, and I have gained a tremendous amount from each of them.”

“Do not be afraid to ask questions or re-ask questions if you’re uncertain of something,” he says. “Silent mouths do not get fed knowledge.”

Warren Clarke and Dr. Jacqueline Kennelly.

Clarke’s Path

Clarke began his academic journey in 2009 at York University, where he majored in Anthropology.  It was during this time that he became captivated by sociocultural Anthropology, and how we might use the discipline to understand the social experiences of ACB youth better.  His interest in this subject matter persisted as he wrapped up his undergrad. In doing so, Clarke decided to continue this line of inquiry at the Master’s level, in Socio-cultural Anthropology, by researching marginalized Toronto Black youth and their relationship with the social workers who serve them in youth programs for his Master’s degree. In this work, Clarke discovered that these young people encounter a colonized, white settler terrain, which defines them as lower-class citizens. In other words, their low socio-economic and social status, coupled with their race, meant they were not perceived as “true citizens” of Canada.  Instead, they were seen as the “other” – troubled youth who do not have a future.

“The social workers who work with marginalized young people recognized the unforgiving reality that these young people face but elected willingly to demonstrate a sense of emotional and personal vulnerability to establish a relationship of solidarity,” he says. “This practice by the social workers enabled them to build a strong working relationship with the youth, which made their mentorship and youth advocacy relevant.”

Clarke had many institutional options for his Ph.D., but he chose Carleton University for its exceptional Department of Sociology and Anthropology.  He was especially eager to be supervised by Sociology’s Professor Kennelly, whose heralded scholarly work on homeless youth moves fluidly between the academy and the community, giving voices to the voiceless and making a real-world impact.  With Kennelly’s guidance, Clarke’s doctoral dissertation focuses on how first-and-second-generation young Canadian Afro-Caribbean Black men experience youth employment training programs in Ontario and Quebec.

“Theoretically, I utilize the work of Franz Fanon as a way to illustrate how Canadian social norms – emerging from Canada’s existence as a settler-colonial nation-state and its long history of racial discrimination – continue to affect the social development of young Afro-Caribbean Black men,” explains Clarke.

For this research, Clarke draws on phenomenology to understand the social experiences of ACB male youth and their use of employment training programs. Also, considering the intersubjective ideologies from other people (youth workers, employers, etc.), and historical notions of what Blackness in Canada means, it becomes more clear how young Black men are impacted in Canadian societies.

“Both theoretical approaches will allow me to develop an understanding of how to better support young Black men and their socio-economic development while challenging the misconceptions of Black masculinity in Canada,” Clarke says.

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Glebe Collegiate Institute

Mirroring his supervisor, Clarke is making significant efforts to mobilize his knowledge and the ACMP in communities beyond Carleton’s campus borders.  For example, The Sociology and Anthropology Department, on the efforts of Clarke, has an ongoing partnership with the Glebe Collegiate Institute, where Clarke teaches his Gender and Society Through the Arts course to third level Carleton Undergraduate students and high school students. His course is designed to encourage all its students to think critically about gender and how it is perceived in mainstream society from the intersections of race, social class, age, ability and sexuality.

“So far, the relationship has been positive, and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and Carleton University’s Sociology and Anthropology Department have worked in a relationship of solidarity to address social oppression, such as bullying, that young people encounter,” says Clarke.

“I get the satisfaction that young high school people are gaining a sense of confidence and positively using their voice to address social oppression.”

Interestingly, his course includes a theatrical component for student learning, and for engaging with the broader Ottawa community.  The course tasks students to organize three plays, which are influenced by Augusto Boal theatrical form, Theatre of the Oppressed, a model that activates the audience to guide the actors to interrogate and transform the reality in which they exist. Naturally, marginalized high school students benefit greatly from this course as it encourages many of them to see the value of moving on to post-secondary education after completing high school.

Knowledge Makes Change

Clarke does not see his brand of work (academic and advocacy) as the only kind that can influence tangible change. Instead, he views it as a component that can add value to the racialized and marginalized communities that require the education and knowledge to be better for themselves. “I rally my work to create stronger bonds between racialized and non-racialized community members so that we can understand our lived experiences, but in a way where it is intentional,” says Clarke, who consistently cites the impact others have had on him when he discusses his personal and the ACMP’s successes.

“My advocacy work was encouraged by my close relationship with my mentor Jim Hayhurst Sr. chair of Trails Youth Initiatives. I would say his approach and willingness to work with many marginalized community members of Toronto inspired me from a young age and still does to this day. Jim and Sylvain Dion always believed in me and encouraged me to see my potential.”

In addition to Hayhurst Sr., Clarke names many members of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences as instrumental in helping with the success of the ACMP.

“I’ve been supported by Dean Pauline RankinDr. Jacqueline KennellyDr. William FlynnDr. Bernard LeistleDr. Aaron Doyle and Dr. Blair Rutherford. These six individuals not only believe in the work that I do but have advocated on my behalf to demonstrate to Carleton University that my academic and community work is beneficial. I do not see myself as having all the answers. Instead, I view myself as someone who can add positive value to the Carleton community and beyond.”

Playing the primary role in Clarke’s triumphs is his daughter, Kataya. “She motivates me to do better. She was the main reason I went back to school, as I want her to be proud of me and see me as an example that she, too, can strive towards her goals while inspiring others.”

Clarke’s insistence on giving credit to his circle of peers and mentors perfectly expresses why he created the ACMP.  He believes that for one young person to beat the odds, to breach the robust societal apparatus created to keep the marginalized on the periphery, it takes access, support, and wisdom.  This is the foundation the ACMP was built upon.

Clarke strongly encourages all members of the Carleton community to engage with and participate in the AMCP – a program that addresses the pitfalls that ACB students face daily.  “It is simple to state that the university does not side with racism and discrimination, but stating it is not enough. Carleton should promote more culturally sensitive training sessions that should be mandated, at all levels. That way, it speaks to creating a diverse and safe campus.”

“No matter your race or ethnicity, please attend our scheduled workshops at least once, or as many as you can,” says Clarke. “The point of the ACMP is to work in solidarity with all people to establish and maintain an anti-racist campus where all Carleton folk feel welcomed, especially Afro-Caribbean Black people.”

Join the ACMP!

The ACMP is always seeking volunteers to help with the initiative. The ACMP asks Carleton students, faculty and staff to visit the ACMP website or FASS ACMP webpage for more information. If this initiative is something you want to get involved with, Warren Clarke.

Specific roles to be filled include the following:

  • High school outreach
  • Event logistical planning
  • Outreach (internal/external)

Support the ACMP through monetary donations!

Support The Afro-Caribbean Mentorship Program (ACMP) at Carleton University

The Afro-Caribbean Mentorship Program Presents in partnership with The Royal Bank of Canada Presents: Empowering Our Future

When:  Friday, February 28th, 2020
Where: Dominion Chalmers Centre (355 Cooper St., Ottawa, Ontario)

Black History Month Event


Warren Clarke with Jim Hayhurst Sr. and Jim Hayhurst Jr.
Warren Clarke at an ACMP event in Robertson Hall
Ottawa City Councillor Rawlson King and Valerie Assoi from the French School Board Trustee attend the second annual More Than Networking event in November 2019
ACMP event attendees grab a bite to eat
Sonia Bizimana, Executive Director of the ACMP
Warren Clarke
Warren Clarke in discussion with Dr. Blair Rutherford (left) and Dr. Aaron Doyle (right)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 in ACMP

Source: https://carleton.ca/fass/story/against-all-odds/