Off the streets and into the working class, DESTA, the Black Youth Network, is a government-funded group that helps young people reverse their downward spirals in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal.
The founder, Frances Waithe, is a mother of eight and a foster mom. She started the charity in 2007 after realizing just how much there was a lack of citizen support for the black youth in Montreal. Helped by a group of community workers, Waithe and her team began wondering what they could do to help. Since then, DESTA has been an organization that succeeds in demarginalizing black 18 to 25-year-olds in our city.
Waithe has been a caregiver all her life, a trait she takes from her mother, who was also a foster mom. She sees the everyday need for an organization like DESTA, and she makes it a mission to help each person that walks through her office door.
“This is my community; these are my friends and my extended family,” she said, adding that a space like DESTA is a place that young people can walk into and call home.
The first of DESTA’s participants to obtain his high school diploma with the organization’s help was a young man named Dwayne Clark. Tattooed all the way up to his neck, he went from being on the streets to becoming a programmer for computer games at Montreal’s CDI College. “I know I’m in a different place in my life, and DESTA definitely helped out with it,” he said.
There are three main points that define how DESTA works: education, health and personal development.
“They don’t call MTL M-T-Hell for no reason. This age group is getting caught up in the streets or getting locked up, we don’t want that,” said Mustafa, a representative for the network. “What we do is help them go back to school, gain personal development, whatever crisis they have.”
The charity runs numerous resources. For education, among other things, DESTA operates an alternative school to help participants obtain their high school diploma with a one-on-one tutoring service. They also have on-site counselors to assist people with their housing, psychological or direct physical health problems. Also, the organization holds a series of activities to support the interests of participants and help them develop as active members of society. “These go from sexuality, to leadership skills, to T.V. writing and the list goes on,” said Waithe.
Concordia students have a history of working with DESTA as many volunteers and tutors are students.
Concordia students who wish to participate in one of DESTA’s events can attend its Health Awareness Day on May 30, where kiosks and workshops will be held on various subjects ranging from boot camp and yoga classes to HIV and drug information sessions. This will be held in the charity’s offices on 1950 St-Antoine W. St. The very popular annual gala, which is the group’s biggest event of the year, will take place June 4.
For more information, visit www.destabyn.org