Kim Tull of the Black Pearls grew up in east Scarborough and credits the multicultural neighbourhood for helping instil a positive sense of self-esteem.
Black Pearls Community Services, a non-profit group, was co-founded in 2003 by Tull and Renee Rawlins who saw a lack of career-driven, educated role models for girls in the black, West Indian and African community.
After moving to Pickering at the beginning of high school, Tull, now 33, experienced some adversity.
“There was a lot of racial tension in my high school because the year I came in, it was like everyone from all various races was going to high school at the same time,” she said. “It was a great experience, but trying in terms of folks learning about each other.”
One of the programs the group offers is BP Uncensored in which young men and women can have open and honest discussions about racism, gender roles, media representation and other issues that affect them.
In the past, they’ve worked with Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate where the lessons learned in this program are applied to everyday life in Laurier’s girls’ group.
“A lot of the issues that young black women face affect young black men, or they’re involved in some level’” Tull said. “The issues are not isolated, so the dialogue needs to happen between they guys and the girls.”
The group hopes its work with schools and community organizations will encourage students to pursue their passions in life, whether that is college, apprenticeship, university or something that falls outside those borders.
“Find something you’re passionate about and be an advocate for it and create programs and services to fulfil that need. That message translates across all genders.”
Tull was a star athlete and student in high school, but was only encouraged to pursue track by one particular teacher, she said.
However, she had support from other teachers and her parents never let her think that university wasn’t in her future.
The importance of positive reinforcement and high expections is important for students, Tull said.
“When we talk to young girls and they feel empowered that they can accomplish anything they want, that to me is what it’s all about. That’s where the pride comes in.”
So far, Black Pearls have given $10,000 in scholarships and $3,000 to community groups.