Think about the phrase. To lift as you climb. Lifting another while climbing to safety, refuge, security.

This phrase was in the introduction of a book I read mid-May, at the beginning of my summer job contract. And it fit. “Lifting As We Climb” would be the name of the project, I thought. And fittingly the phrase was the motto of the first black women’s organization in the United States in 1895. “Lifting as we climb”, they wrote, was the way to security. Individuals lift individuals thereby forming sustainable communities with economically and politically healthy futures.

So this was the project occupying my mind, heart and soul during the months I was off from school. I had the option of working with a bank or working on a project that aimed to empower youth in the workforce. The activist in me always takes over.

The close to 200-page study conducted by Grace-Edward Galabuzi, economist and senior policy analyst (professor at Ryerson University) entitled “Canada’s Creeping Economic Apartheid: The economic segregation and social marginalization of Canada’s racialized groups” (Thesis published 2001; book 2005) was eye-opening for me.

Here are some of the most tantalizing facts:

* Racialized groups are disproportionately represented in low-paying, contract, temporary,part-time, non-unionized work
* White immigrants are almost 50% more likely to get a job, despite similar or less competitive qualifications, than blacks and other racialized groups in Canada
* Racialized groups are not adequately represented in unions and generally mistrust them
* Racialized immigrants are far more highly qualified (i.e. post-secondary degrees/diplomas) than their co-workers

And the list goes on…..for about 188 pages.

As a daughter of two hard-working immigrants this information was really not new to me. My lived experiences taught me that having a degree does not guarantee you a good job; neither does the capacity nor willingness to work hard. However, what is facinating is the degree to which these lived experiences can be documented as a symptom of an economic and societal disgrace. Why are we misusing, or not using at all, a large chunk of our population –even if only to make Canada more competitive, since this is the prevailing ideology, globally? Why are we rendering hard-working people to dead-end positions? Why are policy paradigm shifts in international-degree accreditation not being considered and activated across the board?

So those are the facts. But let me tell you what I’ve learned from face-to-face testimonies while conducting focus groups with youth (ages 16-30) this summer in 5 different cities, including an Aboriginal reserve:

* An African-Canadian young man said he did not know that he had the Right to Refuse unsafe labour while working at a factory. He was 18, fresh out of high school, and was instructed to do welding. He was not a welder, had not been trained, and was not given safety equipment. When he told the boss this, the boss said he should sheild his face with his forearm. He is now in his senior year at university studying English literature.

* An African-Canadian woman was hired over the phone but denied the job in person. She was a full-time student studying business management in college.

* An African-Canadian woman was told that because she had a child she was unfit to work. She was also full-time student, studying marketing.

* An Aboriginal girl said that she was sexually harassed at work and did not think she would find another job if she left. The boss raped her and then fired her. She is now a youth employment counsellor.

* Youth generally do not know their rights at work: anti-discrimination policies are inaccessible but more to the point, inactive.

So we’re having a conference. The website was designed over the summer and I still update regularly. All workers welcome: