2019 DiverseCity Fellow Janelle Hinds combined her experience in technology with her passion for youth civic engagement to create Helping Hands—a platform that helps youth volunteer and get civically engaged while building career skills. As someone with a passion for helping young people become more civically engaged, Janelle uses Twitter as platform of choice to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. In her spare time you might find her cooking delicious and healthy meals for her family or baking sweet treats.
Read her thoughts on the impact of being underestimated below.
Underrepresented, Underestimated, and Undervalued In City Building
By Janelle Hinds
Often when we discuss approaches to improving the engagement of youth and marginalized groups in civic activities we frame things from the perspective of representation. However, truly addressing many of the problems these groups face requires us to think not just about increasing numbers and representation, but about shifting the way different voices are valued.
I am often described as a member of an underrepresented group. I am a young Black woman with a STEM background and an invisible disability. In the process of starting and building a youth-led organization, Helping Hands, there have been many barriers. However, many of these barriers were not just because I was underrepresented, they were because that lack of representation led to my repeated underestimation.
Why do I share this? Because underestimation leads to closed doors. It leads to a lack of mentorship and guidance. It leads to missed funding opportunities. It leads to a lack of support.
Last year I was shortlisted for TEDxToronto, yet when I approached someone who was a 5 time TEDx speaker for mentorship, he implied that I was not capable of speaking at an event held in such high esteem. At Helping Hands, I have hired over a dozen young people in the past year and a half, but my work has repeatedly been referred to a “project” in a dismissive manner.
I purposely chose to focus on the word underestimated instead of underrepresented in my daily work. To state that there are underrepresented minorities in a sector signifies that the solution is simply to increase the number to some arbitrary goal and we have achieved success. By using underestimated, I am pushing for a fundamental shift in social attitudes when it comes to thinking about how and why marginalized populations are underrepresented in the first place.
At Helping Hands, we aim to remove barriers for youth to participate in their community whether that is through volunteering, policy and decision making, or social entrepreneurship. At a systemic level, we encourage organizations that serve youth to consult with youth. However we realized that in order for it to be successful and meaningful, the people with power have to believe that these youth are bringing valid points to the table and take action on these insights. As city builders, we need ensure that marginalized groups are not only represented at decision making tables, but that their voices are heard. I am currently conducting research looking at the impact of youth councils, if they even exist, on municipal politics across southern Ontario. It is not enough to say the presence of youth alone means that they are heard, the insights youth bring to city building are currently undervalued and I hope to change that.
This extends beyond just youth. Newcomers, people facing homelessness, people who are or have faced incarceration and their families, people of low socioeconomic status, people with varying disabilities, the unemployed and underemployed, and the list goes on.
How can you take action and help? Sign up for unconscious bias training at your organization or attend a workshop put on by one of the many amazing city building organizations across the GTHA (being an ELN member is a great start!), read about the work from a diverse cross section of people in your sector and continuously question yourself when you are making assumptions on whether someone can achieve a goal.