Latoya, a registered social worker, is a community activist and leader who has focused her advocacy around one of today’s most important issues – anti-racism. During the Black Lives Matter movement, Latoya’s outspoken comments gained her media attention and provided a platform for her to speak on the issue to, among other groups, University of Regina Psychology Graduate Students Association (Anti-Racism Series), Black Lives Matter YXE, Canadian National Institute for the Blind and RaiseHer Community.
During her time as a University of Regina undergraduate student, Latoya’s benevolence was always on full display. She served as President of the Parent Student Association and collaborated with a local company to offer Christmas hampers to student-parents that were facing financial challenges. Her community service continued as President of the Graduate Students Association when she offered therapy services to students who were facing mental health challenges but were hesitant to access mainstream mental health services or were impeded by other barriers. Latoya's efforts not only provided much needed services for students but they also helped to break the stigma associated with accessing mental health supports within the BIPOC community.
As an undergraduate, Latoya met with U of R senior leadership to share her findings about gaps in mental health services and how to best bridge them. She was instrumental in helping to establish the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research Race and Diversity Committee which assessed the needs for mental health services to improve students’ experiences.
Along with other Black Lives Matter organizers, she brought to the Saskatchewan government’s attention the gaps in mental health services and stressed the need for more Black counsellors and therapists in Saskatchewan.
Latoya has also been a mentor and provided support for new Canadians and international students who find it difficult to assimilate and navigate life in Saskatchewan. She has also sourced furniture and organized holiday meals to welcome new Canadians to the province.
Among the other distinctions she’s earned, Latoya was a President’s Medal Nominee, recipient of the Simon Hugh Bursary, Winnifred Fakis Scholarship of Social Work, and Paige A Brady Memorial Scholarship, and was named a 2020 CBC Future Forty Award recipient.
Latoya is proud to have recently launched her own private clinical practice, Altoya The Therapist, with a keen focus on inclusive and culturally diverse psychotherapy services.
Questions and Answers
What drew you to Social Work in the first place?
Social justice is the core of who I am. While I pride myself in being an exceptional teacher in the classroom, I discerned that there was more that I needed to do to be a positive catalyst of change. Teaching did not offer me the holistic impact I wanted; quite naturally, I answered the call to the field of social work. I am yet to have any regrets.
How will we manage to eradicate racism once and for all?
When we all recognize that racism is not any specific person or group's problem. It is not a personal issue that warrants by-standers or passers-by, it is everybody’s issue and can only be eradicated when we all play an active role in taming this monster that has been damaging so many lives. Whether we are a perpetrator of racism or a beneficiary of it, it affects us all and will take us through reflection and activism to create a more egalitarian society.
Where did you get your penchant for helping others?
It is simple: I would never wish for anyone to experience the immeasurable pain I have. While I may not have the power to prevent others from enduring the same experiences, I feel obliged to support to them in any way I can. I know all too well the impact of hardship and oppression on my life and endeavour to be someone’s cheerleader in any way I can.
Can you describe the experience of raising a baby while going to university?
It is less than ideal for any parent to have to raise a child while attending university and I could default into all the struggles and terrifying moments I experienced. Instead, the thought that populate my mind is that of community: the community of people who galvanized to my support when I was faced with the reality of unaffordable childcare. One lecturer appeased my distress by assuring me that my daughter could sit in her class. I am even emotional at the thought of all my university mates who took turns to watch my daughter, entertain her with markers, crayons, or just a smile and warm welcome. A few became my consistent babysitters and for that I am eternally grateful. It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge how crucial funding through scholarships and grants from the university were in filling my financial gap and making it possible to carve out more quality time with my children. The experience may have been difficult, but I am a testament that it is not impossible when you have a community of support and the will power to push through despite the obstacles. The greatest benefit of being a student parent is the fact that my daughter values education and looks forward to attending university for the second time in her life as an adult learner.
Is it difficult to fit into Canadian culture as a new Canadian? Why?
Canada is a wonderful country and a great place to live. I am consoled to know that despite the challenges of assimilating in society and feeling accepted by all, there are individuals in society who are committed to creating a more inclusive society. Unfortunately, it is difficult to feel belonged in the Canadian culture. The Canada sold to potential immigrants as a multicultural society is a stark contrast to the Canada that we meet when we arrive. Excluded from jobs for which we are qualified, questions about where we learnt English, synonymizing our accent with lack of proficiency in speaking English, remarks and admonitions about going back to Africa or where we are from, the minimization of our education/qualifications, forced to take menial jobs, and the list goes on are the reality faced by many Black and Coloured new immigrants that send the message that we are othered. I could go on, but the point is that more work needs to be done, collaboratively, to ensure that true diversity is embraced by truly embracing inclusivity on policy, in practice and in our mindset/ worldviews.
How would you describe your experience as a therapist for your fellow university students?
Validating and empowering populate my mind. It is easy to invalidate our individual experiences as People of Colour navigating university life. Internalization is quick to set in when we as students perceive that our experiences are unique. To offer support to fellow university peers not only sent the message of community that is needed to feel belonged, it also provided validation of the overwhelming struggles faced and the silent suffering associated with same. I knew that the status quo could not continue and someone had to initiate the transformation. I knew my limitations and that sustainable mental health support rested in taking away the stigma from seeking mental health support through having representative, inclusive and culturally competent therapists. Easily I saw that my peers need me more as an advocate than a therapist, and that is when my work in advocacy expanded to collaborating with the university and other community leaders to bring awareness to the gaps in service.
What is the greatest satisfaction you get from your own practice?
My greatest satisfaction comes from the total change in perspective from first time clients from being hesitant and reluctant to start therapy to be amazed and in awe about what therapy with me entails. From seeing individuals go from bottling years of trauma and hurt to invest in their well-being and healing by allowing themselves to become vulnerable and make meaning of their experiences. I know that my approach to therapy is unorthodox (decolonizing) and that is exactly how I envisioned it, in order to fulfil my aim of destigmatizing therapy so that healing from intergenerational trauma can be actualized because, “healed people heal people and the world by extension”.
What are your fondest memories from your time at the University of Regina?
Too many to count: my volunteerism at the Regina Folk Festival, adopting a family for Thanksgiving, hosting the parent student association event. The one that stands out, however, is the hosting of our first Christmas dinner and treat for student parents and their immediate families. My team and I sought sponsorship from the University of Regina Students’ Union, Last Mountain Distillery and RPIRG (Regina Public Interest Research Group). The joys on the faces of the children when they received their gifts from our in-house Santa, participated in karaoke and shared a 3-course meal with their family was priceless and immeasurable. This experience was beyond humbling for me and dispelled a false narrative in my mind that about poverty in Canada.
What was the most important thing you came away with from your U of R experience?
There are no limitations on who I can become and the things I can achieve.
What role did your university experience play in shaping the person you have become?
When I made the decision to immigrate to Canada, someone I thought was my mentor admonished that I would not survive because of my personality. I have always been a radical and she was no stranger to how I made it my business to advocate for others. This was not always welcomed; no one is happy embrace someone who stirs trouble. What she failed to recognize was that there is no growth and transformation in our comfort zone. That is what the University of Regina and The Faculty of Social Work did for me: it injected me with the confidence to embrace the functionality of my personality and my desire to create a better world for all through radicalism. On the varied occasions of offering my unconventional thoughts and proposals, they were critically embraced by my professors who encouraged me to follow up with my dean (Judy White) who stood by me and offered ideas on how to refine and actualize my goals. Such validation was never received in Jamaica, and it proves to me that despite the challenges Canada has embraced me as I am. I am more purposeful and confident in myself and my drive to be a positive catalysts because all levels of leadership in the university has demonstrated to me that my voice matters and I will continue to be that voice of advocacy that our society needs.
What does receiving this award mean to you?
It is very lonely and arduous to go against the status quo of any society. I have lost persons I thought were friends, lost personal belonging, jobs and almost lost my sanity during the course of the past year and a half. Any validation that I was on the right path would have been welcomed during that period of advocacy. There were occasions when my entire life felt like it was falling apart, and the only solace was that I needed to endure this and overcome this hurdle to create space for others after me. This award is the validation I longed for during my low moments and will be a reminder of how my persistency created change in Saskatchewan and space for others to step up and share the burden.
How would you characterize your fellow ACAA recipients?
Stalwarts and trailblazers who are an inspiration to me. Their contribution in there is a simple reminder on how imperative it is to remain focused on our goals because we never know the lasting impact it is having on others and society at large.
Where do you live and who are your immediate family members?
I live in Newmarket, Ontario. My immediate family members are spouse, Alric Reid, and children, Alxavier and Alxari Reid.