Children & Youth
Human Rights & Equality
CORONAVIRUS DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE – SOCIETY DOES
Montreal North is one of the most impoverished communities in Canada. As a direct result, it suffers from the highest coronavirus infection rate in the city. This health crisis exposes and exacerbates the systemic inequalities faced by impoverished and racialized communities, in Montreal and across Canada. It also highlights their leadership potential.
Canadian Ashoka fellow Will Prosper is co-founder of Hoodstock, a space for dialogue, grassroots social innovation and co-creation of inclusive, safe and dynamic urban spaces. During the global pandemic, Hoodstock is working hard to protect the people of Montréal North by providing residents with information, food and personal protective equipment.
A “talent scout” for community leaders.
As a kid born into Montreal’s most impoverished neighbourhood, Will Prosper has experienced firsthand the injustices — systemic racism, police brutality, entrenched poverty — that disproportionately plague racialized communities.
In 2009, Will created Hoodstock as a response to those injustices. The organization hosts annual social forums that bring together people from marginalized communities to learn about their legal rights and community services, and to channel their anger and frustration into collective energy for change. In 2016, Will co-founded the Consultation Table on Systemic Racism, bringing together more than 75 multifaith and multiethnic leaders from civil society to address issues of systemic racism in Quebec. The initiative led to the City of Montreal’s first public consultation on the issue.
Hoodstock also acts as a talent scout for potential community leaders. They identify youth aged 15 to 30 with the drive to become changemakers. Will works with youth to help them understand and then deconstruct the internalized stereotypes and unconscious biases that too often hold back marginalized populations.
“It’s too easy”, explains Will, “for kids to grow up assuming that the problem is them, and not from the social construction of generations of entrenched inequality.” Hoodstock participants move from seeing themselves as stuck and without potential to understanding themselves as leaders and agents of transformation for their community.
In 2018, Will — a documentary filmmaker and former RCMP officer — created the Hoodstock Youth Leadership Committee. The HYLC acts as an incubator for grassroots social innovation. Young leaders join or develop their own initiatives in response to specific needs identified in their communities. Since 2016, the initiative has spawned eight social innovation projects that are building more inclusive and holistic healthcare options for racialized communities, expanding capacity for social entrepreneurship, and increasing access to diverse arts and literature initiatives. A young leader of Hoodstock is leading Hoodstock’s alternative and restorative justice initiative — the first of its kind in Canada designed by and for Black communities. This year (pandemic permitting), another young Hoodstock member is leading ECHO (Espace Coworking Hoodstock), the first co-working space dedicated to grassroots social innovation incubation and arts in Montreal North.
In Montreal’s public schools, Will has begun a pilot program, S.T.arts, that combines hip-hop culture with coding courses. Designed to address digital exclusion while promoting student retention, the program engages low-income students and prepares them to thrive in the digital economy.
Through Hoodstock and its initiatives, Will is unlocking his community’s power and creating a new generation of young, racialized changemakers. Through his efforts and their power, he is co-creating a community — and a country — where everyone will have the tools they need to thrive.