Joseph is the Co-founder of Generation Chosen, an organization that helps youth in marginalized and lower-income communities build up their emotional intelligence.
PN: Tell us about Generation Chosen and why you and your partners started it.
JS: The Generation Chosen team – Dwayne Brown, Kimarie Smith, Nadia Dowie, and Rhianne Campbell – all possess unique backgrounds that both inform and motivate their work today. The common thread that unites them, is their acknowledgement of the dramatic impact that psycho-social tensions and unresolved emotional issues can have on educational, vocational and life outcomes.
At Generation Chosen, we cultivate and enrich the inter/intrapersonal relationships that each of our participants have. In marginalized and lower-income communities like the one we serve (Jane and Finch), what we believe hinders youth ages 15-29 from enrolling in secondary and post-secondary education and later from accessing good jobs, is not so much their willingness and capacities, but rather, the way in which institutional and systemic barriers, structures, and biases come together to condition the perceptions and emotional lives of our participants.
We’ve designed a program curriculum that takes our Anchees (mentees) through 10 months of activities. These activities include trips, presentations conducted by professionals in various fields, recreational activities, school board accredited high school co-op courses, and weekly Anchor sessions and talks (30 min to 1-hour discussions/activities that reinforce a coping strategy for a particular theme of the month. Ie. anxiety, depression, hatred, resilience, identity etc). All of this is done to fortify and enhance a participant’s emotional intelligence so he/she can navigate the economic and racial barriers that tend to impede entrance into the middle and upper-middle class.
PN: Mental Health and Emotional Intelligence are two key pillars in your programming. Why are they so important?
JS: Due to institutionalized societal practices of anti-black racism, sexism, classicism, and micro-aggressive behaviour, many of the youth and young adults from marginalized lower-income communities struggle with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress due to environmental conditions produced by poverty and disenfranchisement (violence, alcohol, drug abuse, etc). The superficial narrative of crime in marginalized communities rarely displays the root cause of the behaviours and activities.
We focus on emotional intelligence at Generation Chosen because without the necessary coping mechanisms and intellectual tools to combat the emotional residue of societal injustices, our youth and young adults become reactive, unstable, and eventually market themselves to the world in less than profitable ways. It’s emotional intelligence, we believe, that constitutes the educational, political and social paradigm that we must enter in order to properly cater to the needs of those most vulnerable in our society.
PN: You’ve worked as a professor, teaching assistant, and high school teacher. Growing up, did you always know that you wanted to work in education?
JS: I’ve known that I wanted to be an educator since I was in grade 5. I really don’t know specifically what inspired it. My mom is a teacher a year away from retirement and she has had a dramatic impact on my aspirations. But other than that, I had an incredible grade 10 civics teacher named Mr. Carey who completely altered the course of my life. I was a dejected and apathetic 15-year-old, stressed, depressed and anxious, for a variety of reasons. Mr. Carey inspired me to read and think critically and to be concerned about moral and ethical issues in the society around me. That experience, knowing how I felt and what I was on the verge of becoming, left such an imprint on me that all I’ve ever wanted to do was help others cognitively and emotionally liberate themselves from damaging mental and emotional states of being.
PN: Who’s someone that inspires you and why?
JS: My mother inspires me. Her resilience is unparalleled; her mental fortitude is something to be envied. I didn’t have that growing up. I was so afraid of so many things and lacked confidence as a result of the branding of my neighbourhood and the negative experiences I had with community members. I believe I had talents and an aptitude for certain things but was afraid of being myself and afraid of being judged for being different. My mother coached me through all of those difficult adolescent preoccupations and she did it with love, kindness and an unwavering belief in me, all while dealing with her own personal struggles in the workforce, in her personal life, and with her physical health. I follow her template of kindness, grace and tenacity in everything I do.
PN: What’s something you’re working toward that you haven’t done/achieved yet?
JS: I’m presently working towards publishing a variety of pieces, from a curriculum document on emotional intelligence and Generation Chosen, to a novella about my experience in an illegal immigrant jail hall when I was 19-years-old. I’m hoping to grow Generation Chosen to the point where it becomes its own self-sustaining alternative school (both online and in a physical space) that can better help meet the needs of the disenfranchised and marginalized. I also hope to one day develop a social innovation/media arts company that can better help to amplify and magnify the voices, stories, and lives of those from communities much like my own around the world.
PN: How can our readers support Generation Chosen or get involved?
JS: They can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and help spread the ideas and messages of Generation Chosen, or visit our website and leave supportive comments in our comment box. We have an ongoing GoFundMecampaign they can donate to as well. Lastly, readers can support our work by advocating for the adoption of emotional intelligence and perception/anti-bias training in their respective fields of work and by backing political policies and parties that equally share in the vision of creating a future that is emotionally, mentally, and environmentally sustainable.