In 2004 three friends Dr. Cecil Houston, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Windsor, John Solarski a High School Counsellor and Dave Watkins a History Teacher at Weston Collegiate in Toronto had a conversation about black youth getting to university. They all had seen first hand the need to help young black students realise that they could get to university and do well. They agreed to create a dialogue for students who could identify with being part of the African Diaspora. Their goals were to inspire young people through an intense learning experience that would encourage them to proceed to higher education.
The first mini Diaspora conference was held on May 11-12, 2004 as part of a larger international conference on Imagining Diasporas: Space, Identity and Social Change held at the University of Windsor. Approximately 70 Canadian and American high-school students of African descent attended, representing 3 schools from the Windsor, Toronto, and Detroit areas. Students participated in discussions on the topic of Diaspora, their common African heritage, and their life and career aspirations. The students were guided through the conference by university students of African descent and workshops were led by local community leaders of African descent.
In 2005 the University of Windsor and the Toronto District School Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding to continue the work to inspire students who might otherwise discount a University education among their life goals. This is in keeping with the Toronto District School Board’s support for Equity and access to Opportunity/pathways that increase the enrolment of minority students in post-secondary programs. The University of Windsor’s collaboration in this partnership was founded on parallel interests in social justice, serving the Windsor African-Canadian community as well as the culturally diverse student population at the university. Windsor was the first university in Canada to offer an Undergraduate Diaspora Studies Program.
The second conference in 2005 was Back to Your Future – An African Diaspora Youth Conference. The reason behind the title was to get students to think about their history, whether personal or cultural, and make them more aware of where they come from so they know where they are going. A visit to the John Freeman Walls Homestead and Underground Railroad Museum in Puce added another dimension to the students’ experience. Dr. Howard McCurdy the first African-Canadian Member of Parliament, served as the keynote speaker. The attendance in 2005 was 170 students, representing 8 schools from Windsor and Toronto. Unfortunately, Detroit students were unable to attend.
The third conference in 2006 was Pathway to Success – An African Diaspora Youth Conference. This particular theme was chosen focusing on the steps the students would have to take to achieve their personal success. Workshop facilitators represented several careers paths of interest to the students, in which students were given information on the tools necessary to follow the same career path. The Honourable Justice Lloyd Dean, served as the keynote speaker. The attendance in 2006 was approximately 200 students, from Windsor, Toronto and Detroit.
The fourth conference in 2007 was History + Knowledge = Power. The number of students attending this conference was 250. Students from Toronto, Windsor and once again Detroit representing nearly 20 schools. The focus of this conference was history and how it is important to know where you have been in order to know where you are going. The keynote speaker for this conference was Al St. Louis, Founder and CEO of "When Words Are Spoken.
The fifth conference (2008) took place May 11-12 and the theme is Sankofa: Learning from the past to build the future. Once again, there were approximately 250 students from Toronto, Windsor and Detroit area High Schools. The Keynote speaker was Bonna Mohamed with Isaiah McKinnon and Dr. Bryan Walls giving special talks.
The sixth conference (2009) took place May 14 - 16. It's theme was Hip Hope: History, Influence, Purpose. The conference grew to 300 students from Windsor and Toronto. Ngozi Paul an award winning, Canadian actress best known as the co-creator, co-executive producer, and actress on Global TV hit comedic drama Da Kink in My Hair was the keynote speaker.
The seventh conference (2010) took place May 13-15. It's theme was MEdia: More than meets the 'I'. The conference exceded expectations and grew to 367 students from Windsor and Toronto in attendance. The keynote speaker was Dr. Raphael Heaggans an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Niagara University who earned his doctorate in education from West Virginia University. He is a former consultant with the US Department of Education and a former 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher.
The eighth conference (2011) took place May 12 - 14. It's theme was "Mapping Me, I Am Who I say I am.
This year, the keynote speaker was Mr. Charles Pugh, President of Detroit City Council.
The ninth conference ran from Thursday, May 10 to Saturday, May 12. 2012 with the theme: Shosholoza - Know where. Create Your Own Story. The word Shosholoza means to go forward, which suggests encouragement and advancement.
This year the keynote speaker was the Mayor of Southfield Michigan, Ms. Brenda L. Lawrence. The closing speaker was Mr. Quentin Vercetty Lindsay, a self proclaimed Artvist (artist + activist)/Edutainer (educator and entertainer) who has no limit when it comes to his artistic expression.
SHOSHOLOZA and the beauty of Africa on YouTube
Under the video, click on show more for a more detailed version of the lyrics and translation.