When Nicole Perryman, 43, was growing up she says many people hated Soca. “This culture that was so much part of my parents and my identity was [looked at as] wrong and bad,” says Perryman, explaining people thought Soca was scandalous. “I was so ashamed of who I was.”
“We’re constantly trying to unlearn that experience that we’re nothing… we’re not anything, our culture isn’t good, our person isn’t good, our body isn’t good,” says Perryman.
Once Perryman had the chance to learn about her culture’s history, she was more accepting of herself. “I had to unpack and unlearn all the stuff that I learned to not love myself,” Perryman explains.
Perryman explains she had a good life in Canada, but still faced challenges being Black.
But Perryman had a different experience when going to Trinidad’s carnival. “I was in the mass, in my costume… there’s people all around me and I just felt the sense of people and belonging,” explains Perryman.
But that was not what it was like growing up in Canada.
“[In] the ’90s, my parents would watch the news… we’d sit there and watch one Black person after the next person,” says Perryman. “This person did this, this was a gang member… there was constant inundation, so that’s all we knew.”
“Our only other media image was like the Cosby Show, that was it,” says Perryman, who wanted to follow a path that explored her passion for helping families and youth because she felt different from her peers.
This inspired Perryman to go to school at the University of Toronto for physiology but didn’t end up finishing after realizing it wasn’t for her.
In the early 2000s, Perryman started working at Children’s Aid.
“That was my opportunity really to start working with families and working with people,” she explains. “I saw a lot of how the system shapes people’s outcomes or creates barriers for people’s experiences or misinterprets family’s intentions and their connections with each other.”
Perryman explains that the system creates oppressive rules.
“Fighting the system,” says Perryman, “is really hard.”
She did not feel working with Children’s Aid was providing the best outcome and she decided to become a counsellor.
Perryman started her own business in 2013 and created two organizations called Ifarada: Centre of Excellence and the Kujenga Wellness project.
Ifarada came with the belief around seeing resiliency within the community and developing programs, explains Perryman who does many mentorship programs and groups as a way of supporting young people and has helped youth as young as four years old.
Perryman uses methods like creative writing for youth to express themselves in different ways.
“Using [these] mediums to express how they’re feeling is really powerful,” says Perryman.
Kujenga means “to build” in Swahili. “The organization is around how I can build relationships with families who’ve been so disconnected because of these rules within child welfare,” explains Perryman.
The programs use holistic strategies to help connect youth and families to understand their feelings and connect with their cultural backgrounds.
“It looks at…what are the areas in your life that are balanced and what is not balanced and [how] to create better balance within your day-to-day life,” says Perryman. “[This] would help ease some of the sorrow that you experienced.”
One of Perryman’s goals with her two organizations is to normalize Afro-Centric culture in the same way western culture is normalized.
At the time of starting her organizations, Perryman also specialized in working with children in foster care. “I had a couple of kids in foster care that I’ve known for like the last 15 years, [they’ve] known my entire career like they see me grow,” explains Perryman.
“I just started building and using my voice,” explains Perryman. “I can start advocating for mental health for the community… for our communities’ rights, and just systematic change altogether.”
Although Perryman faced challenges in her years, she influenced her 20-year-old daughter, Adrianna Perryman.
“I am proud to call Nicole my mom. I admire her commitment to serving and advocating for the Black community never backing down in the face of adversity,” says Adrianna. “My mother has demonstrated the value of serving others and making the necessary sacrifices to change our communities for the better.”
Adrianna created Wonderfully Made under Ifarada. “I longed for this sense of connectedness with others who looked like me and to foster a space in which Black girls can feel safe to ask questions, express themselves and be proud of who they are,” says Adrianna.
Wonderfully Made was created to connect Black women together through mentorship and help motivate youth to become leaders within their community.
In a couple of years, Perryman may bring all her services into one as they are different ideas with a similar concept. “It will almost feel like a family service agency where all our supports are set under the same roof.”