Jermaine Henry: Change leader and “ARTreprenuer”
Jermaine Henry’s trademark wire-rimmed glasses and hat are inseparable from his rambunctious spirit, his sense of humor, and his passion for using his artistic skills to help others realize their potential. This Toronto-based youth organizer and spoken word and hip-hop artist draws from his spiritual beliefs, his Caribbean heritage, and Afro-Canadian culture to inform his work.
A self-proclaimed “ARTreprenuer,” Jermaine artfully entwines his love for theatre, rap, and poetry with social change-making. As the current director of education at Spoke N’ Heard, Jermaine helps create spaces where young people who have experience with marginalization can safely explore and express their artistic skills. Jermaine’s experience in arts-based community organizing spans many organizations, including the York District School Board, Children’s Mental Health of Ontario, York Centre of Community and Education, Watah Theatrical Institute, and Studio Y-MaRs.
Inspirit had the opportunity to support Jermaine’s work when we awarded a National Impact Grant in 2015 to the Youth Social Infrastructure Collaborative (YSI) project Young Spirit Circles. The project’s aim was to build “a resilient and equitable youth sector” by fostering cross-sectoral and inter-generational relationships between grassroots change leaders.
The project trained four young change leaders to facilitate gatherings in London, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, and Toronto, where Jermaine played host. A working group of 10 young people, Jermaine, and his fellow hosts engaged 95 change leaders in deep conversations on the role of “spirit” — faith, belief, spirituality, culture, heritage, and tradition — in the change they were to create in their respective communities. They managed to engage an additional 10 people by convening online.
Throughout these gatherings, Jermaine often found himself to be the only black person; he also observed that the disparities he faces in communities in Toronto are distinct from the ones faced by communities he visited with YSI. Nevertheless, Jermaine found a common strain in the disparity faced by each community. For example, there were parallels between anti-black racism and discrimination against people of colour in Toronto and racism and discrimination against Indigenous communities in Thunder Bay. This illustrates how important spaces such as those facilitated by the Young Spirit Circles are in building cross-community solidarity for people, like Jermaine, who are working on the front lines.
The project also helped connect YSI with over 20 new organizations and foster sustainable community relationships. Following this Inspirit-supported phase of the project, Young Spirit Circles has gained a further $555,000 in funding for the next three years from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to continue its work in Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.