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Edmonton group helping 2SLGBTQ+ refugees gets funding from new Black Ideas Grant program

Eight Edmonton organizations are sharing nearly $700,000 in grants to help address a surge of 2SLGBTQ+ refugees and disparities highlighted by the global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.

At a Toronto event in mid-May, the Calgary-based Foundation For Black Communities (FFBC) announced a total of $9.1 million in grants to 107 non-profit agencies across Canada, including eight in Edmonton, two in Calgary and one in Fort McMurray.

The one-year grants are from the foundation’s Black Ideas Grant (B.I.G.) Bridge and Build program.

FFBC is Canada’s first-ever Black-led philanthropic foundation. It invests in Black-led, Black-serving and Black-focused non-profitable, charitable and grassroots organizations.

Edmonton-based RaricaNow is receiving a $250,000 grant to house 2SLGBTQ+ refugees in Edmonton, where numbers have climbed due to anti-gay legislation in several African countries.

“I can’t express how grateful I am for the Foundation for Black Communities because my community had almost lost hope,” said CEO Adebayo Chris Katiiti.

Katiiti founded RaricaNow in 2018 after seeking asylum from Uganda during an international swim competition in the Alberta capital.

“The people who are going to be in this housing system come from countries where it is illegal to be gay and some of them have faced discrimination in the shelters,” Katiiti said.

“We hope that this will create a sustainable housing solution for marginalized communities.” 

In the past four months, the number of 2SLGBTQ+ refugees served by RaricaNow has grown from 45 to 200 and the organization has struggled to keep up, Katiiti said. Most refugees have arrived from Uganda, Nigeria and Gambia.

Their road to settlement is riddled with barriers.

Sexual and gender-diverse claimants often face discrimination from family, cultural organizations and shelters where cisgender refugees find support. Asylum seekers can’t work or access income support and legal services until claims are acknowledged up to two months later.

The grant will allow RaricaNow to house up to seven 2SLGBTQ+ new arrivals for months at a time and provide health, employment, settlement and counselling services.

RaricaNow will also expand efforts to better educate service providers and prepare newcomers to handle discrimination.

The group is in talks with the City of Edmonton to secure a building for its proposed project.

“I’m thrilled to know this project is underway,” Coun. Anne Stevenson said in a statement to CBC News.

“I hear too often about the growing number of 2SLGBTQIA+ refugees experiencing homelessness in our community and I’m grateful for RaricaNow and City staff looking for solutions to this much needed housing.”

Ewaka, which means home in the Luganda language of Uganda, will offer something else that many 2SLGBTQ+ newcomers lose by living authentically.

“That’s what we have built with RaricaNow — we built a family,” Katiiti said.

Chart showing the number of grants awarded in each province.
Local committees formed by the Foundation For Black Communities awarded grants to 107 organizations and charities across Canada. (The Foundation For Black Communities)

The Foundation For Black Communities was launched in 2020 after under-resourced Black organizations stepped up service-delivery efforts disrupted by the pandemic, amid mass protests against racial injustice following George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Answering calls from Black visionaries, the federal government established a $200-million endowment. Stewardship of the endowment was awarded to the FFBC. For this year’s inaugural grants, local committees selected recipients from a pool of more than 2,000 applicants.

“Our goal is to ensure that the right investment goes into the right place at the right time as per the needs of community,” said Liban Abokor, co-CEO of the foundation.

“Communities always have their own best interests at heart and If you trust and believe that communities know what’s best for them, over time they begin to improve the investments of solutions and the outcomes that they produce.”

Man smiling and hugging woman in front of a door.
Liban Abokor and Rebecca Darwent, co-founders of the Foundation For Black Communities, share a hug. The foundation awarded $9.1 million to 107 Black-serving organizations at a Toronto event on May 14. (The Foundation For Black Communities)

Kamal Khera, minister of diversity, inclusion and persons with disabilities, said the recipients “will help in our fight against anti-Black racism and in improving the social and economic outcomes of Black communities.

“It’s incredible to see the impact of government working in collaboration with community leaders to drive positive change in communities across the country.”

Support for sickle cell disease

Women holding bags branded with her organization name: Not Just You
Ufuoma Muwhen launched Not Just You in 2018 to support people with sickle cell disease, which is prevalent in sub-Sahara Africa. (Not Just You)

Another Edmonton-based beneficiary is Not Just You.

Founded by Ufuoma Muwhen in 2018 as a student at the University of Alberta, Not Just You serves people and families affected by sickle cell disease.

The inherited disease prevalent in sub-Saharan African communities inhibits the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen.

Diagnosed when she was two years old, Muwhen had strong support from her nuclear family but some relatives still won’t speak to her because of the associated stigma.                       

Muwhen recalls excruciating episodes where she felt a hammering in her bones, triggered by her favourite activity, swimming. Long hospital stays in Calgary created a financial strain for her family.

At 18, a bone marrow transplant from her sister cured Muwhen, who now strives to ease the burden for others through education and support groups. 

Hospitalized patients receive resource boxes containing journals to self-advocate by tracking symptoms and questions. Warm blankets take the chill off during chemotherapy treatments.

Not Just You received a $99,785 grant from the foundation.

“This will be so instrumental for our community, making sure that across the whole country, people with this disease will feel seen,” Muwhen said.

The Foundation for Black Communities expects to launch details this fall for a second round of grants.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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