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Edmontonian homeless youth now leading and inspiring others through Knowledge is Pow Wow

Media Coverage

Originally published in The Edmonton Journal, January 11, 2015


EDMONTON – While on a cultural exchange in Tanzania, Cory Nicotine asked youth there what they would do if they won a million dollars. They told him they’d use it to help their communities by building a school or a home for children.

“Over here in the western world, we would say, ‘I would buy a house, I would buy a car, I’d probably go travel,’ ” Nicotine said. “Over here, it’s about what people think of you.”

It was the first time Nicotine got a passport, went through security and stepped on a plane. The experience changed him, said Catherine Broomfield, executive director at iHuman Youth Society where the 25-year-old was a client.

“Cory is a homeless youth. He’s not had things be very easy for him,” Broomfield said.

“When he came back from Africa, he’s been very open and aware of the world, but also his place in the world and what he can do to inspire his peers to see the world with fresher eyes,” she said.

He realized his potential to lead and inspire other youth and has brought that back to Edmonton.

Nicotine is the brainchild behind Knowledge is Pow Wow, a new program launching in the new year to expose vulnerable and marginalized youth to different cultures and religions.

The plan is to host four to six free events focusing on social justice, religious pluralism and diversity. Aboriginal elders and leaders from those religious communities will talk about their beliefs and their lifestyle; they’ll share their food, music and culture, Nicotine said.

The program, which will be facilitated by iHuman Youth Society and led by a youth committee, has been awarded a $14,000 grant from the Inspirit Foundation, a national organization that funds projects that foster engagement and exchange among young people with different spiritual, religious and secular backgrounds. The City of Edmonton has contributed $15,000 to the project.

At the end of the sessions, there will be a culminating art project or performance showcasing what the youth and community took away from it.

Nicotine wants the initiative to broaden young people’s understanding of the world, just as his journey to Tanzania did for him.

“I want it to be healing and inspiring for some of the youth,” he said.

“I hope they can focus on other issues beside what’s happening in the streets. I want them to see the streets are here, but outside of what they know is a lot bigger and broader and if they broaden what they know, the more opportunities they can encounter.”

When Nicotine approached Broomfield about applying for the Inspirit grant, they decided to model it after a forum he held for youth prior to the civic election last year. About 40 youth attended, many of them too young to vote.

Broomfield said that shows even youth who are homeless or lead high-risk lifestyles are interested in being informed about what’s going on in their community.

“That may be surprising to some people that youth who are vulnerable and marginalized themselves would even really care; well, the reality is … (they’re) the most likely to care.”