On a snowy Tuesday morning in February, we chatted with Dr. Bukola Oladunni Salami to reminisce about her journey leading three projects funded by PolicyWise since 2014. We focused on her 2020 report, Participatory Action Research Project to Promote the Mental Health of African, Black, and Caribbean Youth in Alberta and its impacts. Dr. Salami is a Professor at the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta.
Looking back, she quickly emphasized the centrality of youth engagement throughout the research: “Before we applied for the project, it was youths that said they wanted to do a project on mental health.” She added, “a lot of the presentations have been given by Black youths. They are co-authors of the papers for publication.”
As part of the project, Dr. Salami recalled youth co-researchers highlighting the need for more Black representation in mental health service delivery. The youth presented what an ideal safe space for Black kids and their families could look like to the Executive Director of Africa Centre, Sharif Haji. He, in turn, developed a proposal to create a mental health clinic for the Black population, delivered by Black people.
Fast forward to today, where the Africa Centre offers free counselling by licensed therapists in partnership with the Alberta Black Therapists Network. For Dr. Salami, this practical outcome shows that “youths can be leaders and be actors in improving their own well-being. They can actually transform health systems and build capacity across all systems, when we give them the tools to be able to actually do the work that they need to do.” Dr. Salami’s recent article, Decolonizing research with Black youths, provides further details on the strategies for integrating youth voice and agency.
Dr. Salami and her collaborators have since created the Black Youth Mentorship and Leadership Program to socially and economically empower Black youths to contribute meaningfully to society. “So far, 100 Black youths have gone through our program, and many of those youths are now going into universities and are being leaders in the field,” she said.
Not only has Dr. Salami’s PolicyWise-funded research led to programming and capacity building, but it is also reaching policy makers at the national level, including the Prime Minister. Her work has led to policy changes addressing the socio-economic and well-being needs of Black Canadians. She is now leading a national study to look at the mental health of Black youths across the country after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking back on Dr. Salami’s journey with PolicyWise, and seeing its positive impacts, inspires us to keep working in community-engaged research. Echoing Dr. Salami’s words, “We see that it’s not just research sitting on a table somewhere, it’s actually contributing to policy and practice in concrete ways.”