“If you knew back then what you know today, how different would your life be?”

Eldon Holder, co-founder of the Young Leaders Advisory Council, asked me this question during an interview at the close of the first day of the 2017 Smart Start Summit. The short answer, very different… as I’m sure is the case for most readers whose eyes stumble upon this article. It seems only natural though. After all, hindsight is 20/20. But what if one could take all of the guess work out of life lessons? Which life lessons, you may ask? Facing adversity and following dreams.

In September 2016, a group of 7 strangers, now the Young Leaders Advisory Council (YLAC) were united by one common goal: dismantling racial barriers to inclusive societies and stimulating social entrepreneurship in millennials. Amidst a chaotic brainstorm, one idea stuck out – a youth summit. Hosted at the Canadian agriculture and Food museum May 6th and 7th, the 2017 Smart Start Summit marked a tremendous leap forward to bridge the intergenerational gap and share challenges, as well as success stories, about racial adversity and achieving one’s dreams.

The YLAC team strikes a pose at the Smart Start Summit 2017. Photo provided by YLAC team.

Eldon Holder told me that the Summit’s goal was to “take the learning that [they’ve] gathered over the course of [their] lives and [pass it down to the next generation] in a way that’s meaningful, accessible, and takes down all barriers”. When asked what skills youth had learned over the course of the summit, Eldon hoped that “the delegates would walk away from [this weekend] knowing how to be an ally – how to stand in solidarity with your brothers and sisters, regardless of race, color or creed” and have the courage to pursue your hustle without fear of barriers.

Delegates arrived eager to learn. Over 150 youth participated in two days of speeches, workshops, and networking. Frantzia T. connected with Youth Ottawa and shared her idea for an alcohol-free youth nightclub. A place, she says, where you can “just dance and hang out with your friends without getting into trouble”. Meanwhile, Malcolm G. was looking for a starting point to achieve his goal of a cultural-streetwear fusion clothing line. On the other hand, Eunice K. and a few other delegates wanted to hear first hand the struggles that they may face in creating a Black History Movement called WOKE (Willingness to be Open minded, Knowledgeable and Empowered); and especially how other successful visionaries have overcome similar challenges of adversity.

A group of students share their ideas with members of the Wingd team.

The Summit was completely free for delegates. “We didn’t want them to pay for anything”, Eldon tells me, “we wanted to take care of cost, food, transportation, everything. Bring them here, and we’ll ensure that they can start achieving their goals.”  Keynote speakers included MP Catherine McKenna, MPP Yasir Naqvi, and CTV anchor Stefan Keyes, who gave an impassioned speech about finding your hustle. Wingd also participated in the event, hosting a workshop with Youth Ottawa and the Somali Education Fund (SEF), to share their story, encourage youth to embrace their dreams, and believe that anything is possible.

150 delegates left the summit on Sunday, May 7th inspired, motivated, and equipped with the entrepreneurial skills that will give these dreamers the right start to achieving their goals.  Who knows how different the lives of these 150 ambitious youth might have been had they not attended the 2017 Smart Start Summit? The answer is a mystery, but the impact that these Smart Start Alumni will leave on this world is not. Ottawa should expect a generation of inclusive, empowered, entrepreneurial go-getters, to be the change they want to see in their communities and around the world.

Maryam of the Somali Education Fund (SEF) share’s the story of how SEF came to be, their passion for education, and their determination to make children’s lives better in Somalia.

All photography by Anjali Ramburn.