Next up in our series of the LEVEL community is advisory committee member Yaa-Hemaa Obiri-Yeboah. Yaa-Hemaa is a public servant with Global Affairs Canada. She was selected as a Rhodes Scholar in 2003 and graduated from the University of Oxford with two master’s degrees, respectively, in English Literature and Women’s Studies. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with an Honours English B.A. as a Wesbrook Scholar. She’s a public servant by day, and a jazz and soul singer-songwriter by night. Her debut EP, “Come Hear My Voice” was released in 2016. She has also published articles focused on race and immigrant issues in Huffington Post and New Canadian Media and has supported organizations focused on education and racialized youth.

1. What brought you to the LEVEL Advisory committee?

I lived in Ottawa for over a decade and while there I was involved with and supported organizations that focused on youth and racialized communities. After a recent move to Vancouver, I had a desire to re-engage with the local community as a volunteer and put my lived and professional experiences to good use. Given my interests, a friend introduced me to the team at the Vancouver Foundation, which led to being part of the LEVEL Advisory committee.

2. What made you decide that you wanted to be a part of the LEVEL community? 

I absolutely loved the ethos behind LEVEL. The fact that it was focused on such an important segment of our population – young Indigenous and racialized immigrant and refugee leaders – made me want to be involved at the outset. I’m the daughter of political refugees and understand how important it is to address discrimination, advocate for social change and build structures that help to support the groups that are the focus of LEVEL. I wish that such a community had existed when I was in high school and university.

3. Why does it matter to have young people’s (especially those who are Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee folks) voice at the table?

The voices of young people (particularly Indigenous and racialized migrants and refugees) aren’t often heard in mainstream discourse. To be clear, these young people have been speaking and have been pushing society’s boundaries, but it’s important that this work move from the margins and to the main stage. Young people can have unique and innovative perspectives on how to move society forward and create change. The “same old” isn’t working – in fact, it’s contributing to Indigenous, racialized and refugee peoples continuing to be left behind.

4. Why does racial equity matter?

Racial equity is important because many social and political systems are failing racialized communities. Having said this, inequity doesn’t affect only those who are racialized, it impacts everyone and drags society as a whole. Fighting for equity for all, but particularly the marginalized, benefits the collective as more people will have educational opportunities, will be stronger economically, and will live in safer and healthier communities.

5. What is your hope for the future of Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee youth?

I sincerely hope that there will come a time in our society where systemic issues impacting Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee youth are no more. It’s probably unrealistic to envision a utopia, of sorts, but it would be great if we could reach that destination, i.e. one where racialized peoples are truly equal and where inequities don’t need to be addressed. I’d like to see Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee youth flourishing in their respective communities. I hope that the beauty, strength and resilience are seen foremost, and not the difficulties and challenges that can sometimes plague these groups.