A Chronology of Rites of Passage Work in Toronto, 1993 – Present
This chronology provides an overview of work done in the Afrikan community in Toronto with respect to traditional initiation ceremonies to support the ritual transition of members from one stage of their life process to another. It is not exhaustive and covers only those developments that have a direct relationship with Yensomu Youth and Community Development.
Brothers John Hopkins, John Walker and Abdur Rashid approached Nene Kafele at the Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat (OARS) with a
proposal to provide substance abuse support to Afrikan youth using an Afrikan centred approach. They indicate that the YMCA program, in which they were substance abuse counsellors (YSAP) was ill equipped culturally and from an anti-oppression framework, to address the specific challenges of Afrikan youth and substance use. They also indicated some frustration with the then Ministry of Health in getting support and funding for their ideas.
Anne Marie Stewart, then Assistant Deputy Minister in the Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat, along with Nene Kafele and other senior staff, meet with staff from the Ministry to address this issue. The ministry agrees to fund the initiative on a pilot basis.
Nene Kafele, along with OARS staff and the three advocates develop a full proposal which receives 3 – year pilot funding for staffing, training, capital costs, administration, clinical delivery and health promotion. Program called African Canadian Youth Substance Abuse program (ACYSAP) is launched in North York (Office located at the corner of Marlee and Glencairn ). Program was later defunded (1997) because of administrative, organizational and personality issues and was migrated to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) under a new name, Substance Abuse program for African and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY). A version of ACYSAP still exists but not as a fully fledged addiction service.
Neville Kofi Williams, Brother Stan (now deceased), Nene Kafele, the 3 advocates and Ken Jeffers meet regularly to discuss the state of Afrikan youth in Toronto. These discussions take place in the context of they “Yonge Street Riots” and the 1992 Stephen Lewis Report which identified African Canadian youth as an at risk group. There were critical issues surrounding Police/Black youth relations, zero tolerance in the School Boards and escalating Black on Black violence/homicides. From this we surmised that a group of hard core young men existed who had no regard for life or property, who lacked significant positive values about being Black. We wanted to take a look at this as “men” and to begin a process of change starting with young leaders in the Community. This leads to discussions about overall youth strategy and vision in the community. A consensus emerges that a fundamental change/transformation needs to happen through utilising a different approach to youth programming; one that was grounded strongly in Afrikan centred values and approaches, focussing on the crisis of identity, culture, community values and the meaning of manhood and womanhood.
The idea of a Rites of passage focus emerges from these discussions as possibly an effective vehicle. The small group decides to apply for funding through OARS to host a conference entitled “Endangered Species: Young African Canadian Males on the Brink “Facing the Challenge” and agree to focus on young men only however separate workshops were also available for women. Two of the brothers (John Hopkins and John Walker) strongly suggest that we invite Useni Eugene Perkins from the Association for the Positive Development of African – American Youth in Chicago and Paul Hill Jnr. from the National Rites of Passage Institute in Cleveland, Ohio to provide keynote addresses and run some of the workshops. They were identified as key Rites of Passage experts in the United States.
Successful all day conferences on November 4th, and November 11th with over 200 participants and extensive media coverage in the community.
A Rites of Passage program involving Toronto was a desired outcome. Neville Kofi Williams and Nene Kafele approach Paul Hill Jnr. during the conference about the possibility of a Toronto contingent participating in the next cycle of Rites through the National Rites of Passage Institute in Cleveland. This was agreed to.
From March 1st, to 3rd 1996 a small group of 8 individuals ( 5 Males and 3 Females) from Toronto joined 42 others from the U.S. in Cleveland, Ohio for Group VI National Leadership Training at the Rites of Passage training. The second session was held from September 13th – 15th 1996 and Members were initiated in Cleveland as members of the Group Penpamsie.
Nene Kafele identifies 10 leaders and interested individuals in Toronto and recommends them to join a second cycle in Cleveland. That group was initiated in Toronto in 1998 as members of Sankofa.
1998 – 2003
Individuals from both groups continue work in Toronto but no formal Rites training takes place. Some key leaders emerging from this experience are Sister Abena (Ginelle) Skerritt, Sister Joanne Atherley and sipho kwaku.
2003 – 2004
Nene Kafele is initiated at the Shrine of Ameapdwa in Akropong, Ashanti, Ghana as a level 3 teacher of initiation rites.
Nene Kafele starts and incorporates Yensomu Youth and Community Development in Ghana and in Toronto as a not-for-profit charity and NGO.
Yensomu initiates a number of projects in Ghana and focuses primarily on delivering Akan based Afrikan centred Rites of Passage experience in Toronto. Model builds on the Cleveland experience but has a number of significant differences: pouring of Libations, development of a Life Plan, connecting with community elders through group initiatives and finally, integrating a significant group project extending beyond the life of the Rites process.
First trip to Ghana with Nene Kafele
Second Yensomu trip to Ghana with Nene Kafele and Yensomu makes a 5 year strategic plan.
3rd Rites process initiates Mrammuo candidates.
Nene departs Yensomu. May 3rd Yensomu trip to Ghana, led by Lindis and Maxine Aku.
Foundational weekend at Umoja Sunrise in May, led by Elder Paul Hill and the group from Cleveland, Ohio as well as ROP conference at U of T ( hosted and sponsored by WoodGreen community services).
4th Rites of Passage process initiates Ese Ne Tekrema candidates.
5th Rites of passage process initiates Abusua Pa candidates. GTA Rites of Passage 4 year collaborative process begins. Yensomu responsible for training staff for the GTA ROP process and sits on GTAROP Advisory Committee.
Yensomu begins planning of the bi-annual Rites of Passage conference in Toronto as part of the GTAROP initiative and begins “Taste of Rites” training with Peel CAS. Yensomu sits on Black Youth Transitioning Care Advisory committee with Delta Family resource centre.
Nene Kafele develops curriculum and writes training manual. 3 groups are initiated during this time (Dua Kro, Akoben and Mrammuo). This work involves extensive collaboration, leadership and active participation and support from a number of initiates including Abena (Ginelle) Skerritt, sipho kwaku, Joanne Atherley, Aku Brown, Kojo Lee Miller, Lindis Collins-Bacchus and Lillia Esi Shillingford.
Many other initiates assist in specific ways throughout the process. A number of community leaders are active in their support, in particular, Ancestor Sherona Hall, Sam and Gwen Burke, Sister Murphy Brown and others.
Many rites initiates continue to provide Afrikan centred leadership in Toronto in a variety of areas – community work, youth programming, in education as well as supporting and initiating activities in Ghana. A good number of rites initiates have visited Ghana under the leadership of Yensomu.
An increasingly critical mass of acceptance of Rites has been present in Toronto over the last 5 years. This can be attributed significantly (although not exclusively) to the leadership of Yensomu and its credibility in delivering authentic Afrikan centred Akan based Rites of Passage.
There are now various initiatives described as Rites of passage being delivered in Toronto.
Initiation Rites are part of the collective memory and cultural anchor of Afrikan people developed over thousands of years to enable strong healthy communities, grounded in spirit and driven by traditional communal values. The process of Rites is owned only by the collective consciousness of Afrikan people.