Bahia Marks and two youths crossing an intersection in St. James Town
Photos by Yasin Osman

Giving Youth a Say in Their Community

Daniels Scholar Bahia Marks is exploring how young people can bring about neighbourhood change

When Bahia Marks was 10 years old and living in Cape Town, South Africa, her mother, who worked in public health, sometimes took her on visits into the local communities. Even at that age, Marks – now a master’s student at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design – noticed a relationship between what people looked like and where they lived. “I wondered why some people, who were often white, lived in areas of extreme wealth and others did not.”

These questions lingered with Marks, and as an undergraduate in the U.S. she became interested in “participatory design.” She began thinking about how neighbourhood residents might contribute to the design of their own communities.

Now, Marks is exploring this topic – both in her master’s work at the university and as a volunteer with the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program in St. James Town, where Marks meets weekly with a group of 11- to 15-year-olds.

Together, the group – one of several junior youth groups that meet across Toronto – considers what their neighbourhood needs. Then they act. “Our group decided they wanted to create a space where children can watch movies together,” says Marks. While this may be a small change, she hopes the skills the youth learn will stay with them. “It’s like a muscle we’re building together,” she says.

Apartment building in St. James Town photographed from below
On March 22, Bahia Marks joined members of the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program for a film screening in Toronto’s St. James Town.
Bahia Marks and Maya Wong are gathering pamphlets and smiling.
Marks and Maya Wong, a U of T philosophy grad, prepare for the screening.
Marks and Gabrial sit together among others in a gymnasium.
Marks and Gabrial sit together to watch the film, which is the fourth in a series made by and about youth. Gabrial meets with Marks and several peers weekly as part of the Junior Youth program.
A facilitator addresses an audience of Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program members and children.
After the film, a discussion occurs in three groups: junior youth, youth and parents. This evening's screening was all about service, and reasons for serving.

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  1. 3 Responses to “ Giving Youth a Say in Their Community ”

  2. Betsy Seidel says:

    Wow! I am very impressed with Bahia Marks and how she is helping youth. With all her graduate school work, it's a wonder she makes time for these kids. They are blessed to have her working with them!

  3. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    Gideon Forman (BA 1987 Victoria) writes:

    Kudos for your article on young activists. It made me think of Fridays for Future, the youth-led organization inspired by Nobel Prize nominee Greta Thunberg, 16, which urges rapid action on climate change. This new mobilization is one of the most potent antidotes to despair. Bahia Marks wondered how residents could help design neighbourhoods. Today, students are hoping to design all of society -- so it's life-enhancing and low-carbon. They deserve our impassioned support.

  4. Angela cadena says:

    I am very encouraged and inspired by this work. I would love to learn about its progress and findings. I have been interested in developing teen volunteers at local high school in Portland, Oregon, where teens are transforming the perceptions of their peers with respect to the environment.