From the months of June to December in 2020, Youth Culture sought out academic thought leaders and community voices to share their perspectives on the pandemic.

In the pages that follow, diverse voices from academia and community are captured through interviews and insight including:

Dr. Imogen Coe from Ryerson University offers her insight as an equity, diversity and inclusion ambassador and trusted science communicator

Mary Pangowish shares her story from a First Nations perspective living on reserve

Jada Wallace talks about the realities of 2020 on Black communities and People of Colour

Nasir Khali provides insight on his experience through the pandemic as a person with a disability

Cameron Dinner shares his take on the pandemic related to a community with external challenges

These community perspectives demonstrate the levels of resiliency and courage put forth to face adversities. Listening to the realities of the pandemic from various communities leads to authentic conversations about creating effective support strategies tailored to specific needs. The Take Action section provides ideas and strategies on how to support youth during the pandemic and beyond.

Ask the expert from an EDI lens:

Interview with Dr. Imogen Coe

Dr. Imogen Coe is a powerful advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and a strong voice for those who aren’t heard. Dr. Coe was the founding dean of the Faculty of Science from 2012 to 2018 and is a professor of Chemistry and Biology at Ryerson University in Toronto. She is also an affiliate scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, where her research group studies the cell biology of proteins responsible for the uptake of anti-cancer drugs.

She is the incoming President of the Canadian Molecular Biosciences Society and sits on various boards including Science Rendezvous and the Michael Garron Hospital. In addition to her work as a research scientist, Dr. Coe is internationally recognized as a Canadian thought leader in how to integrate principles of EDI into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She has advised academia, government and industry on best practices and approaches to improve EDI and has contributed to national dialogue about these issues through various platforms.  She is much in demand as a speaker and panelist and has received numerous awards for her advocacy work.

In October, 2020, Dr. Coe shared her thoughts about the impact of the pandemic on youth in the 17 to 23 age group. 

Follow Dr. Coe at

Youth Culture (YC): What do you think were the biggest impacts of the pandemic on youth from underserved communities?

Dr. Imogen Coe (IC): Loss of social connections, especially with educators and support people in the community.  While many youth spend a lot of time online, in person connections are also critical at this age. I worry about those who were receiving informal or ad hoc support through mentoring, tutoring, career advice, and general guidance by members of the village that is no longer accessible in the same way. Also, the ability to work and study in an online setting is very technology dependent—those in rural areas may suffer from unstable internet and/or disrupted work/study environments.  I see a lot of that with my class this fall semester.  I really don’t know what any of them look like—they don’t turn on their cameras—which I totally understand. But there is something fundamentally human about connecting to real people.

YC:  What will the new normal look like when the pandemic is over?

IC:  I think we’ll go back to a lot of “before.”  I’m skeptical about a new normal.  Shifting society and culture is very hard and slow. I think we have more awareness of accessibility and the way that online teaching can be leveraged to make it more available and accessible.  I think we will also go back to in-classroom and “traditional” ways of teaching, learning and working. 

YC: Are there any good things for youth about this new normal? Any concerns?

IC: Both opportunities and concerns.  I’ve discovered that there is value in intentional gathering using virtual platforms.  They reach further and wider and you can bring people together from around the globe in relatively cheap ways.  Almost anybody can go to a conference anywhere—previously there were many exclusionary aspects to all sorts of things. Now, almost anybody can access a lecture from anywhere.  I don’t think we’ll give up in-person events or teaching, though.  Human beings are social animals and we will never get away from that—even the introverts like me!

COVID-19 Impact on a First Nation Community

By Mary Pangowish

When the severity of the pandemic hit, Wiikwemkoong closed the schools and limited non-essential businesses. Due to our remote location, the Wiikwemkoong border was also closed for non-essential travel for a few weeks, among other considerations made by our Chief and Council. Because of our small population, it was feasible to deliver both perishable and non-perishable food to families that did not have anyone working as a result of the pandemic, or to those that opted in, at no cost. My household had to isolate for a few weeks and while in isolation there was a service available to us that would deliver hot meals three times per day. All interactions like this were approached with appropriate safety precautions. 

During the pandemic, the capable and respectful response from our Chief and Council made me even more grateful to be a part of this community. They ensured that safety of our community was their top priority. I knew that had to do with our cultural values, where the community comes first—people come first. 

I would think that the Seven Grandfather Teachings were in full effect, especially the teaching of Truth, which is to accept your place in the grand scheme of things. 

At the end of the day, we’re all people—people who have to live in the pandemic together, and we need each other to get through this safely. Youth and mental health was a concern. 

Most students, met with their counsellor in-person during school before the pandemic, and when it shifted to telephone sessions, it was a real challenge. Students might live with a big family where there’s no privacy to talk. It’s really putting a damper on the mental health of youth in the community.

I was really wary of this pandemic. During the past year, I thought a lot about how Indigenous communities are susceptible to health issues. I remembered when Health Canada sent body bags to reserves in Manitoba instead of medical supports during the H1N1 pandemic back in 2009. Later, a similar situation happened in the US. It hurts to see systemic efforts of neglect to Indigenous people. My community was very lucky to fair as well as it has and I’m very grateful.

Mary Pangowish, from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, has been inquisitive and curious since she was young. Her desire for extensive knowledge about the world around us has led to her love of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Over the past few years, Mary’s ambition has allowed her to take the lead role in her high school’s robotics team, gaining her proficiency in technical skills, outreach, and public speaking. One of her favourite observations is how the values of traditional Anishinaabek teachings work in tandem with the goals of STEM organizations. Mary hopes to continue into STEM in her post-secondary education and will continue her passion for sharing Anishinaabek cultural practices, and creating Indigenous appreciation with others. 

Photo: Jordan Dyer

2020 Reflections By Jada Wallace

In light of the new year, and the upcoming anniversary of the first lockdown due to COVID-19; everyone is reminiscing about plans they once had and how everything shifted right in front of their eyes. As a teenager, I remember emptying my locker just in case and not understanding the gravity of the situation we were in. 

After everyone was home for the extended spring break, I soon realized that we would not be returning to school. The beginning was hard but it propelled me into creating a new schedule and reforming my life. I stopped watching the news because it was overwhelming, and I took social media posts in a very light manner. My daily routine consisted of praying for people affected by COVID-19, and doing various exercises like yoga and running. I was working at a local grocery store, and in the month of March we were asked not to wear masks, so the store would still look safe. Being young, I did not think much of it when my co-workers left the store and refused to work.

COVID-19 really hit me when a co-worker and family friend lost both of her parents within weeks of each other. My days turned for the worst as I started to feel drained, tired, and focused on the deaths instead of the positive future I once thought I would have.”

As time went on, it was more apparent how race and ethnicity played a part in marginalized communities where more people tested positive for COVID-19. Black communities are more at risk because of socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus through certain occupations, like caregivers and nurses.

Luckily, I met many people in my community and beyond who were making positive change virtually. I joined a group named Quarantine Corner and other initiatives led by youth workers. I also began doing interviews for Youth Culture and worked with GLE (Grow, Lead, Excel) to assist with projects like providing for the homeless, promoting an active lifestyle for youth, and spreading awareness about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in Canada. My mental and physical health were impacted by COVID-19 without ever contracting the disease. I had to shift my goals, focusing on the new things that were happening in my life. I reconnected with my community in a unique way despite the challenges we faced. I discovered that online learning is beneficial for my growth and not a hindrance because I can make an even bigger difference using
my new-found platform to address things I am passionate about.

The state of mental health of people in my community, and all over the world, worsened on May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was added to the list of Black people who died at the hands of the police in America, as byproduct of the systemic racism embedded into our society. This historical event was painful in the moment—and continues to leave scars until this day. Although I am thankful for the advancement in technology, I could not rationalize having a video of anyone’s death passed around the world and used to justify their killing or defend their honour and legacy. I had to begin addressing many of my emotions related to racism and how it affected me because this was a topic nobody could stop debating or talking about. The protest began, and so did the heightened violence. Built-up emotions over years of oppression could be felt in the air. The pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement weighed heavy on my community.

The pandemic did not disappear, but it highlighted the fact that communities like mine lacked the resources and education surrounding COVID-19—causing it to disproportionately affect people of colour.

It was relieving to see that a few weeks later there was a pop-up testing center in my community. Following the death of Breonna Taylor, Black women started to stand up and make demands from the governments and justice systems around the world. In my community, a similar instance of police violence happened: everyone was heartbroken but banded together to protest against the violence that had made its way to our front doors. It was uplifting to be a part of something bigger than me and my community. We have a long way to go in terms of addressing systemic racism, police brutality, and the demands of the BLM movement. The year of 2020 was not easy. My advice for everyone is to just breathe. But remember to take a few mindful breaths to be thankful that you have that ability.

Do not allow the hardships to make you pessimistic.

Use everything you learned last year to make every single day count.

Jada Wallace is a Youth Advisory Team Member at Youth Culture Inc., an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion, and she’s following her passion of becoming a Film Director. 

Jada Wallace is a Youth Advisory Team Member at Youth Culture Inc., an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion, and she’s following her passion of becoming a Film Director. 

Beyond the Surface of 

Accessibility and inclusion

Nasir Khali is a 25-year-old musician, model, voice actor, and creative professional. Nasir (Naz) is also visually impaired. At age 9, Naz lost his sight due to a tumour caused by a condition called neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1). Losing his sight at such a young age, Naz learned to become resilient and resourceful. “When one thing goes, God blesses us with another. After I lost my sight, that’s when I connected to music,” says Naz.

In 2018, Naz moved from the UK to Canada because he heard there were opportunities for people with disabilities. He was also determined to follow his dream of producing music, as well as inspiring others who have a disability.  

However, since his arrival to Canada, he has struggled to find employment. Then, when the pandemic hit in 2020, additional challenges, such as finding remote opportunities, hit a new low. Although he applied for internships and jobs online, he received little response, and when he did, the steps leading up to an interview were not necessarily accommodating. 

I was left asking myself a lot of questions, like, how do I show what I can do rather than what I can’t do when I am not even given an opportunity to prove myself? The whole process left me feeling disappointed and disheartened. I wondered whether the recruiters actually thought of the person first before the disability or did they just see the disability?
-Nasir Khan

It was during a conversation with a family friend when Naz heard about Youth Culture’s involvement with the MentorAbility program that supports youth and adults with disabilities through virtual mentorship opportunities. When Naz reached out, the team at Youth Culture immediately recognized his talent and potential to inspire others. Youth Culture’s president Kim Cooper decided to personally mentor Naz, and eventually offered him freelance consulting work to help with Youth Culture’s accessibility and inclusion initiatives, as well as utilize his passion for music to produce background tracks for Youth Culture’s video series.

Naz’s involvement with Youth Culture has brought learning about accessibility and inclusion to a deeper level. From adapting virtual meetings for the visually impaired to demonstrating how Naz can use his skills to bring the team to a new level, Naz has been able to teach others about inclusion beyond the surface level.

“While working with Naz, I have come to realize how inaccessible the world really is: how everyday tasks like grocery shopping or online meetings aren’t made for everyone even though they should be. There is so much talk about accessibility and inclusion but if everyday tasks are still inaccessible, all that talk is for nothing. If we share with youth how to make the world more inclusive, the future will be more accessible for everyone.”
Rajosree Paul, University of Waterloo
Co-op Student at Youth Culture

Pandemic Panic

By Cameron Dinner

They told us we’d be locked down for two weeks, maximum. For those two weeks, I sat and thought: “Hey, I’ll be able to see my friends in two weeks. That’s not too bad.” Oh boy, how I was wrong. 

The impact of the lockdown in my community was…eerily peaceful. No longer could you hear children playing outside for recess at school, or see people walking the streets or commuting anywhere. I didn’t complain, and many of the older folks in my neighborhood didn’t either, they had peace and quiet to tend to their gardens. However, many of my family’s close friends lost their jobs, whether it be for their safety, or due to company shutdowns.

The pandemic impacted my friends in a different, not so pleasant way. Especially after the summer, since we’d grown so distant. I can relate it to one of my favourite songs of 2020, “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals. The song is about how people change over the summer: whether it be for new friends they hang out with, a significant other, or even like we’ve experienced with the pandemic, a new normal of being locked inside and your parents telling you to stay home, unless it’s for a brief walk outside.

Even with family, you love them to bits, but spending every minute inside with them takes a toll, sometimes for the worse. Your friends may feel down as mental health issues are at an all-time high due to the lockdowns and COVID in general. It may not mean much to you, but asking them how they are, listening and talking to them means a world of difference, and you may not even know it. I have a friend whose been going through a lot—a lot more then I have. An uncle passed away from COVID, his father lost his job, and his mother is working triple the amount of hours she normally does as a nurse. An even bigger issue, was his girlfriend left him. He’s been in disarray, and I try my best to get him outside to talk to him and cheer him up. I see it makes a difference. We need friends in life, now more than ever.

My concern now, is the lack of abiding by the quarantine bylaws. People party, people don’t wear masks, I even hear people who consider COVID-19 to be a hoax by the government. Trust me, I’ve heard it all. People need to learn that this is a serious pandemic, and we can’t take this lightly. We don’t have the ICU capacity to hold everyone with COVID-19 who ends up being critically ill, so the best way to keep people alive is by following the government’s guidelines. Our communities may be affected, but with our willingness to abide by the rules put in place by the government, we will get through this… together!

Most importantly, we can’t lose hope. For those of us who can’t find a job, I urge you to volunteer. Volunteering can put a smile on someone’s face, and that may just help someone from having a bad day. You never know what someone is going through. Online school may be tough, but with Zoom, at least you can hear your friends again, and even communicate in a pseudo face-to-face way. You may not always land on the moon, but you can definitely land amongst the stars.

Cameron Dinner is an 18-year-old college student from Downsview in Toronto, Ontario, and a Youth Culture Ambassador.

The Realities for Disadvantaged communities

For socio-economically disadvantaged communities, the pandemic has led to struggles that are often not widely acknowledged. The Downsview area in Toronto, Ontario, is an example of a community with external challenges. According to the Toronto District School Board’s Learning Opportunity Index (LOI), Downsview Secondary School ranks in the top five schools with the greatest number of external challenges affecting student success. The LOI was created to support children who have access to fewer resources at home and in their neighbourhoods have increased access to available resources in their schools. The impact of the pandemic is complex for communities with more external challenges. Insight from the Downsview community demonstrates the unique challenges for marginalized groups.

The biggest impacts of the pandemic on youth in Downsview, from voices in the community, include:


Lack of technology and equipment (laptop, Wi-Fi at home or access to high speed internet)


Lack of knowledge and practise of how to use technology for the community’s ELL (English Language Learner) population


Lack of communication from students and families to the school because of no cell phone response or access to technology


A loss of money: part-time jobs were scarce for students, especially those looking for their first jobs. Many of these jobs were cancelled (ie: summer camp counsellors) and the loss of cash coupled with a loss of experience, including confidence-building that comes with early job experiences


A lack of drive and motivation