Angelo Grant is a dedicated supporter of Empowerment Squared and is a volunteer with our Homework Circle program. He is the founder of PITCH Magazine, a platform for Black youth to express themselves creatively. Angelo recently completed his third year of McMaster University’s Health Sciences program and has been admitted to the University of Toronto’s Doctor of Medicine program.
Angelo learned about Empowerment Squared while attending ClubsFest at McMaster University and began volunteering in our Homework Circle Program during COVID-19. He is a natural fundraiser and raised $700 in funds during the 2020 Smile Cookie campaign. He also donated the proceeds of PITCH magazine’s apparel sales to Empowerment Squared’s E-store.
Angelo sat down with Joana Fejzaj, Empowerment Squared’s Manager of Partnership and Community Development, for an in-depth conversation.
Joana: Let’s start with your background. What was your journey?
Angelo: I was born in Jamaica, but I’ve lived in Oakville since I was less than a year old. Both of my parents and their parents were born in Jamaica. I have a lot of family that still lives in Jamaica, and some that live throughout the US, Canada and Europe. We’ve kept strong connections to the island and go back every three years.
Who has influenced and inspired you along the way?
When I go back to Jamaica and I see how my parents used to live, it’s inspiring to see that they came from such humble beginnings and were able to carve out a life for themselves and their children. Knowing that story of where I come from, I feel like I have a responsibility to take it even further, and that is always driving me. Beyond that, the support they have shown me over the years has been incredible. They’ve given me every opportunity to focus on what I want to do and follow my dreams, so they’re definitely my biggest inspiration.
Was immigrating to Canada a hard choice for your parents?
It was difficult in some aspects. They were leaving their friends and family behind, but it was a choice they made for a better life. My mom is currently a high school principal. She was already a teacher in Jamaica, but needed to go back to school to become a teacher here. As I grew up I saw her progress from teaching, to guidance counselor, to vice principal and finally principal, which was very inspiring. They came here for a better life, but there’s always challenges when you come to a new country and I learned by watching my parents overcome them.
What should our readers know about your heritage?
Many Jamaican people I know have overcome a lot of challenges. Many came from poverty and struggled to pay for their schooling and to find work. This journey is not unique to us. It’s something a lot of families have gone through. There’s a big Jamaican diaspora in Canada, especially Toronto. Behind the culture that people love, like dancehall music and Caribana – there are a lot of struggles that Jamaican people have overcome and are still overcoming.
What are you studying at McMaster? How did you choose your area of study?
I just finished my third year at McMaster in Health Sciences. I did well in high school, so I had my options open. I chose health sciences because I’ve always been interested in science, especially the body and how all the different systems are connected. I knew I wanted to go into something like health care, or something to do with taking care of people and their health. I applied to programs at Western University, Queen’s University, University of Toronto, and McMaster, and ultimately chose McMaster because of its excellent reputation.
How did you learn about Empowerment Squared? What pulled you in and what kept you coming back?
In my first year, I was interested in a club called BAP-MAC (Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster) Shout-out to Sonya and the crew! Empowerment Squared was handing out pamphlets at ClubsFest, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to volunteer. I started volunteering at E2 in January of last year in person, then due to the pandemic, transitioned online to the Homework Circle program. It means a lot to the kids to have someone that cares enough to sit down with them one-on-one and explain things. It’s done a lot for me as well. Getting a break from studying to talk to the kids is motivating and refreshing! When they do their Happiness Journal and they say: “I was happy because I saw my friend today,” it helps me remember what’s really important – family, friends, the time you spend with them, and spending time doing what you actually love.
How would you describe the kids that we work with at E2?
They’re all very bright in their own unique way. Seeing the way they take advantage of the opportunity to have someone help them is very inspiring. A lot of them seem to be more mature than their age. They all have their own gifts they can share with the world. They just need the opportunity to have someone care about them, guide them along the way, and provide them with opportunities that they need to be able to share what they have with the world.
How has your time with E2 helped you grow as an individual and professional?
It’s definitely helped with patience, especially over Zoom, such as when dealing with technical difficulties or the difficulties of getting kids to focus on a screen when they’ve probably been looking at screens all day. With all the studying I do and working on the medical college admissions test (MCAT), and applications, I feel like I always had my head down in my books. When you talk to the kids and hear what made them happy today or how they’re excited about little things, it helps keep me grounded and helps me to remember what’s really important.
You created PITCH magazine as a platform to celebrate and highlight Black excellence and creativity. Why is this important to you as an individual and for the culture?
I started PITCH in my second year as a platform for Black youth to express themselves creatively. [Check out the first issue at: https://issuu.com/pitchmag/docs/issuu_one].
Even before I had the idea to make a magazine, I was collecting and reading magazines and vinyl records. There’s a magazine called Wax Poetics that I love because its imagery and articles are super cool. Seeing Black people represented in a way that was dignified and held a lot of integrity in magazines was really inspiring to me. When I came to McMaster, I was looking for somewhere to express myself on campus, and that’s where the idea was born. Even when it was just an idea, there was a lot of support from people who the idea resonated with. When I started to open up submissions and released content, I found that it really spoke to people.
You raised over $700 in the 2020 Smile Cookie campaign, and donated the proceeds of the PITCH apparel to the E2 E-store this year. Have you always been a natural fundraiser?
Yes! The Smile Cookie campaign was a lot of fun. I came in second, and I was disappointed. I was gunning for the top spot! I had been planning on raising funds for E2 for a while. I saw how important the work E2 is doing is to our community and especially for Black youth and felt it was the perfect way to support.
What are you most proud of during your time with E2?
The Smile Cookie Campaign was fun and doing the apparel run with PITCH magazine was cool, but I think for me, Homework Circle is what I’m most proud of. To me, the most important thing about E2 is the opportunities it brings to the kids and how we’re able to empower them to use that curiosity that they have and channel it into something positive and into things that can help build a brighter future.
PITCH magazine aims to help people be seen. What do you want our readers to see about you? What do you want them to see about our collective humanity?
People see that I’ve started a magazine and think it’s cool, and may be inspired by the fact that I’ve been accepted into medical school, but I’m just a normal person who had dreams and opportunities and went after them! PITCH magazine could have just been an idea that I left and didn’t pursue because of the work involved, but I chose to put myself out there and see how well I could do with the ideas that I had. If you have a dream or an idea of what you want to do, go for it! It’s something I think people need to be reminded of, especially younger people.
New initiatives can be challenging and discouraging sometimes. When I put out the idea to launch PITCH at McMaster I got few responses. At that point I was unsure if I should go through with it. But I decided to go for it, to see how far I could take it by myself. And since the first issue, it has grown to be so much more. More people have been involved, it’s spoken to a lot of people and it’s become a collective.
Is there anything that you would like to say to the kids and families that you have been working with who might be reading this interview?
I’d like to thank them. I know we’re the mentors, but they’ve done a lot for us. They’ve kept me grounded and shared things about themselves and put themselves out there. I think that’s really important and I want them to keep doing that, to keep taking the opportunities that are available to them.
What is next for you?
I’m headed to the University of Toronto in the fall for their Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program. It’s up in the air with the pandemic and I’m not sure how it’s going to look but it’s going to be another challenge for me to tackle and I’m excited and a little bit nervous. I’m hoping I can continue with E2 and PITCH. I always want to still be contributing in different ways to the community!