I was a teenager in 2008, 14 to be exact. I’d just started high school, my mother was teaching English in Japan and Barack Obama was running in his first presidential election. On election night, mom called the house to make sure that my sister and I were watching as the results poured in. She mentioned several times that this was a historic moment and she was clearly very excited. At the time, I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist so news and politics didn’t interest me much. I’d heard Young Jeezy’s “My President is Black” and seen the now-iconic Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster but the magnitude of the night was lost on me.
On Wednesday, the significance of Obama and his 2008 campaign dawned on me as I sat in the packed Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
More than 6000 people gathered at the “Future Skills: A conversation with President Barack Obama” forum hosted by the Economic Club of Canada and the Global Institute for Conscious Economics. A joint statement from the two groups read “The Economic Club of Canada & The Global Institute for Conscious Economics are dedicated to fostering a new economic dialogue in Canada that promotes equality, inclusion, and the voices of multiple generations around the same table.” To support that, the event boasted a 1:1 ratio, meaning that for every ticket purchased, a ticket was given to a young black leader under 30 so they could attend. One of the event’s sponsors Adidas, paid for 500 black youth to attend. The entertainment included Indigenous drummers and singers, award-winning Black poets Dwayne Morgan, Randall Adjei and Thunderclaw Robinson among many others.
With tickets going for as much as $275, the organizers were intentional about creating an event that was so opposite to the demographics that these events usually attract – rich and white. Instead, the crowd was filled with all different races and ages, economic and professional backgrounds.
Kiana “Rookz” Eastmond, entrepreneur and founder of Sandbox Studios, a recording studio in Toronto, touched on the power and potential of young people as she kicked off the event with her opening address. “Shout out to all the young people here today because you’re not supposed to be here,” she joked. Eastmond shared a touching story of how she left home and dropped out of school at 16 then ended up creating her dream career, winning awards and eventually finding herself giving the opening remarks at an event featuring the first black president of the United States.
For Eastmond, the significance of the occasion wasn’t just about a personal accomplishment, it was about visibility. She said growing up in Scarborough, she never imagined living the life she lives now but now that she is, she wants to set an example. “The power of being seen means you have the power to amplify those that are not seen and cannot see themselves,” she said. The story moved Eastmond to tears and gave rise to thunderous applause from the audience. “It’s amazing what happens when people believe in you,” she said. “Take a moment every single day to think about that. Don’t leave here without opening the door for someone else,” she added.
That is the epitome of the audacity of hope. It’s the boldness to believe in your resolution and having the courage to support it in your thoughts and in your actions, despite the difficulty of the task or the discomfort it may cause.