Black Youth Development Mentorship Program Spreads the Word to High School Students

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A mentorship program for black high school students aimed at getting more young black people working in the provincial government is entering its second year this summer.

The Black Youth Development Mentorship Program (BYDMP) provides students in grades 11 and 12 with full-time summer jobs with various provincial government departments. Each student is paired with a mentor of African descent within their department.

“I wanted to get involved because it’s a great opportunity to get involved in government, to learn different skills that not only help me in the workplace, but also outside of the workplace, like communication and organization,” said Alissa Provo, who started her second year of the program last week.

Provo returned to the program this year after completing her freshman year at the University of Ottawa where she is studying biomedical sciences.

“It’s also long term, it’s not just a summer,” Provo said. “You can come back for up to four summers, so your position is there, and it’s secure.”

Extension of the program

Provo recently spoke to a group of black high school students at Lockview High School in Fall River about his experience in the BYDMP program.

She was joined by her mentor, Jessica Quillan, who is also a project manager for BYDMP in her role as diversity coordinator for the Department of Public Works.

Quillan said the program originated in October 2020 when senior Public Works leaders met with black department employees following the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Staff expressed some concerns about the lack of visible diversity in the department, and the lack of visible representation and how that impacted them coming to work, and the work they did,” Quillan said.

Initially, the program was to be limited to 20 students working alongside mentors of African descent within Public Works.

After receiving 55 applications, however, the program was expanded to include other departments to accommodate all students who applied. This included the Department of Health and Welfare where Quillan worked at the time. She joined the program as a mentor and ended up mentoring Provo in the program’s first year.

After the program ended last year, a summary report was written that said the program would need direction to move forward. Quillan applied for the job and got the job.

“Jessica was a great mentor, I was very lucky to have her,” Provo said. “She was one of the few mentors of color in the Department of Health and Welfare, so I was very lucky to have someone like me to guide me through the various systems of government.”

Jessica Quillan is a diversity coordinator with the provincial Department of Public Works. She is also a mentor for the Black Youth Development Program (BYDMP) and the main organizer of the project. Photo: Matthew Byard.

With Quillan now in charge of the BYDMP program itself, Provo is now tasked with helping her spread the word about it to black high school students across the province.

During his chat with students at Lockview High School, Provo said the full-time position gave him “a sense of independence.” Through the BYDMP program, she said she was able to develop new skills, as well as network and make new friends with other black students in the program.

Last year, due to COVID, the program operated on a hybrid system where she worked from home on some days and traveled to the office on other days and met with Quillan one-on-one.

In addition to learning about Quillan’s work, Provo was also tasked with finding ways to make the province’s 811 website more diverse and inclusive for people of African descent. This included the use of the term people of African descent rather than African Nova Scotians.

“Visually, looking at the page, there wasn’t much that made someone of color want to keep reading it,” Provo said. “It was very simple, the only photo that was shown looked like a white man. And the language used was a bit confusing…with some of the words and medical terms they use.

“I thought if he was able to simplify certain words, he would reach a larger group of people,” she said.

Quillan said this year about 30 students are returning to the BYDMP program and officially 40 positions for new students to apply. As the online application process closed on Saturday, Quillan said she wanted to welcome any black high school students who wanted to reach out.

Students can go online and review the various positions available and then must go through an interview and hiring process. To pass, candidates must be able to work from July 4 to August 26.

**To contact the Public Works Department, click here.

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