Giving The Gift of Expression

“I feel like I really need to help a lot of people,” Benjamin Tamana, 17, excitedly told me. Benjamin immigrated to Canada with his mom and his two brothers in December of 2006.  Since then he has gotten involved in the local hip hop scene, and through that encourages kids to stay away from gang life.

Benjamin devotes a lot of his energy to the Broadway Community Centre’s Hip Hop Academy. It’s an after school program that seeks to get inner city youth ages 13-19 off the street and into the studio recording their own raps and videos with the help of one of the centre’s multimedia programs – Just TV. Benjamin started going there three years ago upon the invitation of a friend, and now frequents the centre, spending his time writing music, recording videos, and encouraging youth. He said, “Some of them complain that their family has these problems; suicide, or whatever, but you can't join the gang because you’re depressed, or because you have conflict at home with your family, or because you don't have money. I'll tell them, you know you have to let your feelings out with the music. Write and tell me how you feel. The comments they get from people makes them feel better and makes them think 'I should do this more.' And then some of them stay away from gangs and try to get their friends out of gangs into the studio.”

Benjamin emigrated from Nigeria in an effort to preserve his life. Benjamin’s family and other people from the region got into big trouble for persistently asking the government for services we take for granted such as quality public education, reliable electricity, and decent roads. Nigeria’s oil industry generates massive wealth that instead of providing those basic services lines the pockets of corrupt government officials and multinational oil companies. Because the people in Benjamin’s region were trying to get the government to share more of the wealth, the government started killing the activists. After a certain point, Benjamin and his family decided to flee like others in his community had been doing.

Nigeria wasn’t all bad. Benjamin’s living arrangements were unique and actually fostered a deep love for music in him. He grew up with five girls who were all singers. Benjamin became one as well while living with them, and they would have competitions to see who could sound the nicest. Other than friendships like those, relatives and the weather, Benjamin doesn’t miss Nigeria.

Life in Canada hasn’t been the easiest though. Like many immigrants, Benjamin and his family had to deal with the lack of an adequate support network for immigrants who lack money for necessities and to repay the government for travel costs and the language skills to acquire it. Benjamin steered clear of the allure of easy money provided by gangs, and is very intent on helping others do the same.

Because the desire to help out people in need is Benjamin’s main focus, he plans to start using the $100,000 community participation and sports scholarship he got last year at Gordon Bell High School to study pre-Law at the University of Winnipeg. “I know there are so many ways I can help other people, but I think by going into law there'll be more opportunities for me to help people. I know I have a bright side of convincing people to do the right thing at the right time instead of seeing people depart into negative ways of life, so I know I can do that and that is the reason that I'm going into law, because I want to help a lot.”

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