My name is Ike Kenzo; many of you know me as a program manager with Canada Bridges. I have been with the team since March of 2017. I have thoroughly enjoyed the chance to learn and grow in my role and have cherished the relationships that I have developed in community. As my role evolves along with the changing global circumstances we are all witnessing, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to an exciting opportunity we have for Canada Bridges to do some work with an organisation called SOS Congo that works with Black youth in Calgary.
To understand the mission of SOS Congo, it is important to understand my personal story and that of The Congo. To accomplish this end, allow me to reintroduce myself. Hello, my name is Kenzo Nina I’keba, my name means in pain I keep my dignity. I was born on Treaty 4 territory, the original lands of the Cree, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Dakota, Nakota, Lakota, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. I left Canada when I was about three months old to return to my native country, which was at the time known as Zaire. I left Zaire and lived in the United States for a short time before eventually coming back to Canada to complete High School and University.
My return to Canada was unplanned and punctuated by uncertainty; my former country of Zaire was confronted by a bloody regional war known by some as Africa’s World War. The effects of this conflict were far reaching, one of the first signals of this ominous change was the Country reverting back to its original name of the “Congo”. There was a subsequent and sudden re-emergence of traumatic violence in the region that complemented the change in the country’s name; the result was that country reclaimed its former name and also its former nick name as “the heart of darkness”.
Congo has for many centuries been know as being the land of legends, mystery, pain, untapped potential and struggle. These things are said about the Congo because it is situated in heart of Africa. The land is adorned with a lush and largely unexplored rain forest. The geography is shaped by one the world’s longest and mightiest rivers “The Congo”. Indeed, it is the river that gives its name to the country. The soil contains a scandalous amount of mineral valued at over twenty four trillion dollars. Yet the people have suffered centuries of pain and humiliation. The slave trade, colonialism and post colonial wars have robbed The Congo of millions of her sons and daughters.
S.O.S Congo works to try to change this painful yet one-sided narrative by reclaiming agency, the S.O.S stands for sharing our stories. Since 2014, we have worked in the community to bring an aspect of positivity and dignity to the Congolese story. We started out by doing an event called the Taste of Congo where showcased the best in Congolese cuisine, music, art and hospitality. We followed that up by having a music-centered youth program, where youth would learn to express themselves and learn their history through music. In 2018, we collaborated with Canada Bridges for the first when we organised a second Taste of Congo event. We called this one Bridging the Gap. We still had music, food and art, but the difference this time is that we had youth performers from both the African community and the Indigenous community. It ended up being a one of kind cross cultural event.
SOS Congo and Canada Bridges are now presented with another neat opportunity to partner. We would like to do some youth leadership in the community. We hope to leverage Canada Bridges’ experience in teaching wisdom stories, community mapping and change leadership to be able to plan workshops for the African and Black community in Calgary in order to build the leadership capacity of these community members and to help youth find their voice and feel more comfortable sharing their stories. We believe that this can be a worthwhile partnership for both organisations. Looking forward to working together and seeing what we can co-design moving forward.