Its powerful name fits perfectly with its powerful mandate.
The 1834 Fellowship, reflective of the year that slavery was abolished in Canada, helps to prepare remarkable Black youths for civic leadership roles and supports their skills and career development.
This past weekend, Brock University was honoured to virtually host the inaugural 1834 Fellowship Policy Forum, which welcomed 40 fellows from Ontario, Quebec and Alberta for three days of online engagement. The event was initially scheduled to be held on campus in July 2020 but was postponed and eventually moved online due to the ongoing pandemic.
The 1834 Fellowship is run by Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC), a non-profit organization that supports the election of Black people to public office through involvement in Canada’s government, agencies, commissions, civil service and political process at all levels.
The weekend forum was a culmination of a year-long Fellowship for the inaugural 2020-21 group, as well as an introduction for the 2021-22 cohort.
The packed lineup of activities and panels featured elected officials, Brock University professors and other respected speakers who touched on topics such as public policy, leadership, working in politics and Niagara’s Black history.
Among the many sessions was a ‘fireside chat’ between Brock University President Gervan Fearon and historian Rochelle Bush from the Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Catharines; a keynote address by famed football player and current General Manager of the Toronto Argonauts Michael “Pinball” Clemons; and an hour-long discussion with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Fellows had the opportunity to present their public policy proposals directly to Prime Minister Trudeau, who offered feedback on each presentation and fielded questions from the group of 18-to-25 year olds.
“Investing in young people is something that has long been a huge priority for me, from the very beginning of my political career and even before that,” Trudeau told his online audience. “Empowering young people, giving them opportunities and making sure their voices resonate in our public policy discussions is more than just a nice thing to do; It’s essential in making sure that we are properly challenging the future, properly embracing the changes and seeing clearly the things we have done in the status quo that are no longer good enough.
“Making sure we’re hearing your voices and perspectives as we chart the path forward for Canada is going to be unbelievably important.”
Trudeau said he “can’t wait to see a greater level of diversity in policymakers, politicians and public opinion shapers, whether that’s in the media, politics or in business.”
“I know that we’re part of a generational change and I just feel privileged that I can sit in the front row and watch it, and hopefully help it in meaningful ways as well,” he said. “But I’m counting on all of you to keep pushing hard and I know you will, so thank you.”
After spending the weekend hearing from and speaking with influential elected officials and decision-makers, the Fellows were encouraged by Fearon to recognize the significance of the occasion and the hard work that brought them to the Fellowship in the first place.
“It is not just about the moment, rather, it is about all the reading, working, thinking, preparing and growth you have put in over years that allows you to seize the moment,” he said. “It allows you to find shared possibilities to contribute to the causes of your focus and, indeed, to advance the betterment of your communities, Canada and, fundamentally, humanity.”
Fearon said it is “easy to see the moment of excellence yet miss the hard work conducted over years and the sacrifices or choices made because one wanted to be in a position to support the success of others.”
“Leadership is not about the moment, but rather about the life lived.”
Fearon mentored one of the Fellows over the past year and said it was both a rewarding and enriching experience for both parties. He was proud to present the inaugural cohort with certificates marking the Fellowship’s completion at the end of the weekend’s events.
The work being done by the Fellowship program is “very important in building that next generation of leaders,” Fearon said.
“We must also recognize that there are significant opportunities for growth and enhancing our representation of Black Canadians in all fields, whether in the public or private sector,” he said. “The 1834 Fellowship program aims to assist in closing the gap in supporting Black Canadians in leadership positions and their capacity to contribute to the betterment of Canada.”
Brock University was initially chosen to host the 1834 Fellowship Policy Forum because of its location — in St. Catharines with a significant connection to the Underground Railroad — and its reputation for community engagement and partnerships, said OBVC Chair Velma Morgan.
“The historic nature, representation and commitment to community fits well with not only the name of our Fellowship, but also our goals of equipping the next generation of public policymakers with the knowledge and confidence they need to be successful,” she said. “We are hoping to continue and expand our partnership with Brock University as our Fellowship grows.”
For more information on the 1834 Fellowship, please visit the Operation Black Vote Canada website.