Ottawa’s 1834 Fellowship develops Black civic leaders
UM student Reem Elmahi was selected as one of 20 high-potential youth for the prestigious summit
Reem Elmahi was in the House of Commons on October 3, 2023, the day Greg Fergus was elected as Canada’s first Black Speaker. The fifth-year Faculty of Science student witnessed the historic moment as part of a group of 20 Black youth selected for the 1834 Fellowship, a months-long learning opportunity that concludes with a trip to Ottawa.
Named in honour of the year slavery was abolished in the British Empire, the 1834 Fellowship develops Black youth in their capacity for civic leadership roles and supports them in their skills and career development. During the fellowship, says Elmahi, she met Canadian youth from a variety of circumstances, from other students to young professionals.
In preparation for the 3-day Ottawa summit in October, Elmahi and the other fellows started meeting on a weekly basis in March. The course-like structure culminated in a small-group presentation on a particular public policy proposal that would benefit Black Canadians; each group was responsible to research a topic and prepared to present their public policy research and recommendations to a minister’s office.
The 1834 Fellowship in Ottawa
During the Ottawa trip, the fellows participated in various activities and intensive civic mixers on different public policy areas; each fellow was paired with a mentor from the public institution or political sphere.
Black former politician and author Celina Caesar-Chavannes gave a talk to the group on their first evening there. Her book, Can You Hear Me Now? — which Elmahi read after she returned from Ottawa — details her upbringing and path as a young Black woman entrepreneur to become a civic leader, and outlines her life after she left politics and found healing, along with her authentic voice.
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The group visited the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law for a lecture on the intersections of law and public policy, and toured the National Art Gallery of Canada, where they viewed some political art. Their final evening included a keynote lecture from the first Black Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Appeal, Michael Tulloch.
Upon visiting the Senate, the 1834 Fellows were recognized by Senator Bernadette Clement, who was Ontario’s first Black female mayor. They also attended a live question period and met with several other politicians and employees, including the only Black chief of staff for the federal government, Christopher Evelyn, NDP party leader Jagmeet Singh and MP Mathew Green, along with Annamie Paul, former leader of the Green Party and the first Black Canadian and first Jewish woman be elected leader of a federal party in Canada.
Two highlights of the trip, says Elmahi, were witnessing Greg Fergus as the first Black Speaker in the House of Commons (including his first official Speaker’s Parade on Parliament Hill on Oct. 4), and meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Parliament Building. She also got to ask the prime minister a question; her question was about providing more support for Sudan.
“It was a total surprise!” she says. “Each one of us got to take a photo and ask the prime minister a question related to Black Canadians. After that we heard from members of the Black Executives Network, who led an incredible panel discussion.”
The months-long fellowship and Ottawa summit was a demanding but positive and ultimately rewarding experience, adds Elmahi. “I learned so much about Canadian politics in real time and got to meet so many talented, successful and interesting people. My takeaway was that there are so many careers and paths in public policy and politics.”
The experience taught her a lot about civic leadership, she says — while underlining that “there are still many Black ‘firsts’ to achieve in Canada.”
See more Black History Month content.