Nurturing young Black minds to excel in their endeavours was always at the forefront of Candies Kotchapaw’s professional ambitions.
Instead of waiting for change to happen, she broke new ground to create systems of support to help guide and inspire current and future generations of young Black leaders.
Candies Kotchapaw, MSW, RSW, was born in Jamaica, and it was upon immigrating to Canada with her family at the age of 14 that she immediately drew parallels with her home country’s social conditions, such as the prevalence of poverty. She always wanted to get involved in human rights and poverty reduction, and that naturally led her towards social work, even if it wasn’t her primary aim.
“As I grew interested in the structural side of social work, and really noticed how institutions impacted and influenced communities, continuing my social work education really just galvanized that passion I had when I was younger,” Candies said.
After working in frontline social work for many years, Candies went back to school to obtain a Master of Social Work (MSW). She specialized in policy practice, but was deeply affected by the systemic discrimination she and other Black students faced. She also became aware of limited professional opportunities in diplomacy, a sector she also considered entering.
“Who are those people that our country usually selects to be high commissioners or diplomats abroad?” Candies said. “I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in those roles. For my MSW thesis work, entitled ‘The Politics of Social Work: Do Racialized Social Workers Belong in the Practice Space of Public Policy Development?’ I started to think about why there weren’t clear pathways to attaining those diplomatic positions. That really was the starting point for the DYLOTT program.”
In their professional roles, social workers and social service workers are well positioned to be at the forefront of developing and delivering solutions
to such challenges. DYLOTT, or Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow, Today, was the result of Candies’ research. She sought to create programs that build future Black leaders, and says DYLOTT’s structure centred on having diverse Canadian representation globally.
The core of the DYLOTT program came together when Candies travelled to Riga, Latvia in 2017, where she noticed things were far worse for young Black people in other countries. “I came back to Canada thinking that I needed to do something to level the playing field, but also amplify the excellence in young Black kids within these niche fields,” she said. “I then spent six years building out networks and connecting with many experts in different sectors.”
DYLOTT started with just 10 kids but transformed into a full-fledged non-profit in 2019. Now positioned as an organization, it cemented Candies’ passion to maintain a consistent dialogue on how to navigate spaces in multilateral diplomacy.
EMPOWERING BLACK YOUTH
In alignment with her advocacy efforts, Candies saw an opportunity to create programs to further support and empower marginalized youth. Candies created two major programs through DYLOTT. #LeadLikeAGirl provides mentorship to young girls aged eight to 17, and instills confidence for public speaking opportunities.
The Black Diplomacy Academy prepares members aged 18 to 35 to engage with regional, national and global policy issues. In social work terms, it aims to bring together sectors who don’t usually speak to each other, and help build consensus.
“These programs were really about helping Black youth identify where their leadership skills were, by lifting them up and helping them know that they belong on that stage,” Candies said. “These opportunities opened their worldview, so that they can become leaders of tomorrow, today.”
Candies thinks a lot about the organization’s trajectory. She says that everything in the DYLOTT nucleus sets the tone for short- and long-term collaborative solutions.
“To truly solve historical challenges faced by Black communities, as well as heal from traumas faced throughout generations, we have to come together and discuss these problems as mutual experts,” Candies said. “Every stakeholder comes with a valuable proposition that is equal to funding, program design and community impact.”
Social workers and social service workers should be aware of, and play an integral role in, addressing these historical inequities. Candies stresses that DYLOTT’s programs aim to avoid revisiting historical trauma. While the Black experience cannot be denied, DYLOTT operates to make life better today by integrating policy-making resources, such as the United Nations International Decade for African Descent and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, into its operations.
Candies says these resources were especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic and the racist responses to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020. It indicated to Candies that Black intersectional issues may only be in vogue for so long before people move on. But by being intentional with DYLOTT’s growth, installing a multilateral framework connected to global tools would allow the organization to remain relevant.
“All Sustainable Development goals relate to a social problem,” Candies said. “Now when I go to any stakeholder and say that ‘problem x needs solution y,’ they can work with DYLOTT to address that issue in a tangible way through active program design.”
A PRODUCTIVE FUTURE AHEAD
Allyship is crucial, Candies says, as there are never enough social workers in one single space to create the change that needs to occur. She says that BIPOC and non-racialized allies both have unique insights about the world, and can lend assistance in different but impactful ways.
Seeing the excellence that has arisen out of DYLOTT, Candies now aims to branch out to emerging fields, such as cybersecurity, to amplify Black voices in those spaces. Looking back at how far her passion has taken her and knowing that DYLOTT continues to be a marker for change at the micro, macro, and mezzo levels keeps her enthusiasm high.
“Every day I come into work excited,” Candies says. “For those looking to continue DYLOTT’s work in their own, unique way – perfect your gifts and talents until they become your strengths.”
The College thanks Candies for speaking with us and sharing her experiences. In appreciation, the College has made a donation to DYLOTT.