Youth discuss social issues at the fifth annual If I Ruled T.O. youth conference

Youth discuss social issues at the fifth annual If I Ruled T.O. youth conference

May 29, 2017

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Youth Week celebrations kicked off with the fifth annual If I Ruled T.O. event, a one-day “think tank” conference which brought together more than 200 youth from across the city to discuss social issues. 

Young female speaking to a group about social issues.

For many decision-makers, If I Ruled T.O. was the perfect space to learn more about the issues that affect young people.​

“We usually do not get a lot of youth coming out to community meetings,” said Carmen Smith, Engagement Consultant at the City of Toronto. “It is because many community meetings are not designed to be relevant to youth.”

Angela Cooke, Vice President of Resident and Community Services, speaks words of encouragement to the audience.
Angela Cooke, Vice President of Resident and Community Services, speaks words of encouragement to the audience. ​

The goal of the conference was to create a safe and inclusive space for youth to engage in an honest conversation and to make sure their voices are heard.

“Youth bring a unique and innovative perspective that we do not always get to shine a spotlight on,” said Angela Cooke, Vice President of Resident and Community Services. “Now, here is our chance.” 

Participants presented their ideas and opinions on a number of issues, including accessibility, education, employment, housing, mental health, violence and safety. 

For youth like Wynikka, who opened up the conversation by sharing personal experiences about finding stable youth employment, it is a constant challenge. She said there are barriers for young people, especially those with disabilities, to find a job. ​

Youth engaging in conversation. 
“I have to hide my disability in order to get a job,” said Wynikka. “Once I request work accommodations, things get weird and I feel forced to leave my job.” 

Joseph, who also attended the youth conference, mentioned the financial barriers youth face.

“If I ruled Toronto, I would work to make education accessible and free,” said Joseph. “I think that financial issues are a barrier for a lot of people as they cannot afford to access the resources that they need.”​

Youth also took the opportunity to flag barriers that they faced when managing social issues, such as lack of mentorship, access to services and lack of representation in decision-making. 

“The reason why everyone hesitates is because you may feel insecure about the things you are doing in life and you are not sure about what’s happening,” said If I Ruled T.O.’s MC, Femi Lawson. “Often times we step back and wait for others to step forward.”​

MC Femi Lawson (standing on the left), speaking to  a group of young people
MC Femi Lawson encourages youth to share their ideas at If I Ruled T.O. conference.​

Despite the challenges, decision-makers urged youth to express their ideas and empowered them to overcome their challenges.​

A young boy and woman writing their opinions about social issues on a board.  
“Youth should be honest, speak their minds and share their ideas about the issues they experience in their communities,” said Angela Cooke.

Decision-makers praised the group for being engaged and honest about their experiences. 

“Out of all of my years of attending If I Ruled T.O., this was the most engaged and innovative group,” said Arjun, Chair of the Toronto Youth Cabinet.   

Following the conference, decision-makers will incorporate youth feedback and suggestions into upcoming programs and policies. ​

Sticky notes with ideas about how to improve TCHC posted on boards.
Youth shared their ideas on how we can improve Toronto Community Housing. ​

“The information we’ve received today was very helpful and will help us to feed data into our Tenants First report,” said Chris Phibbs, Project Manager of the City’s Tenants First team. 

Looking ahead, Joseph hopes that decision-makers will consider their ideas and feedback. “We need to remember that the decisions we make not only affect us, but the kids who are coming up.”

Additional links​

Check out our Facebook page​ ​to see more photos from these events. ​​

Did you take photos at the Social Photo Booth during If I Ruled T.O? Click here to view and download photos​ from the event.  ​