9 Heavens Healing Academy



The 9 Heavens Healing Academy targets gang, drug and justice involved youth from inner-city Toronto. Youth participate in weekend camps at Ohsweken Territory to expand their frame of reference beyond the city streets. The program's emphasis on responsibility, combined with life skills development, helps young men realize the potential for a positive passage into manhood.

Curtis Bell:

Program Manager, 9 Heavens Healing Academy: We are called 9 Heavens Healing Academy and right now we are staying on the Ohsweken Six Nations, which is in the Grand River County, and we are a relocation program.

All the boys that come to 9 Heavens from Jane and Finch are African Canadian. What it does is offer an opportunity to get in touch therapeutically with Mother Earth and the Native culture.

What we've done is we've combined the two cultures to come together, because they both share in a lot of different ways not just the struggle but resilience over the years.

All of our boys are referred by our agency here in Toronto. They spend weekends with us.

What we provide is micromanagement and that is working on the details of life, so that could mean anything from social skills, character building. We definitely have to delve into their anger and the issues that govern all of their thoughts and moods. We provide them with education around hygiene, nutrition, academics, athletics. I mean, we're doing what parents do.

Go before you get the flick.

9 Heavens and YAAACE, which is the wrap-around, provides them with habilitation.

Devon Jones:

Co-Founder, YAAACE: Well the program is called YAAACE, that is, the Youth Association for Academics, Athletics and Character Education. YAAACE was started initially to address the existing issue of gang polarization between kids north of Finch and kids south of Finch. We started this initiative to get the young people together to coexist.

When I met Curtis and partnered with Curtis, it was an amazing opportunity to show young people just another way. There is a life outside of the poverty and the desolation and the despair that you see every day.

The biggest challenge was dealing with one, the lack of resources; second, it was dealing with just a huge degree of apathy that existed. To fix any problem, the large part is to identify it.

Curtis Bell:

Program Manager, 9 Heavens Healing Academy: And that's basically what we are doing with 9 Heavens and YAAACE. We have young people that are self-medicating because of their PTSD. We call it urban survival syndrome. Cat on a hot tin roof. If you are after me, I'm after you. That's survival.

I heard a criticism; you can't have all these ex-gang bangers on your team. Well, yeah you need 'em. [laughs]

Our street consultant's invaluable to me. He's the kind of role model they need. He's the role model that says this is a life that I was once living, but now I've aspired to a different life. And you can be like me.

Street Mentor:

For me, I was fortunate to have Devon Jones and Curtis Bell pull me aside and guide me to the right side and that's what I want to do right now and help out kids as much as I can.

Devon Jones:

Co-Founder, YAAACE: Building a relationship is the most important thing to affect any degree of social change. We have people that have been in and out of their life for an extended period of time, so they expect that, but once they see that you are around and you genuinely care and you have high expectations of them, they don't want to disappoint you.

Curtis Bell:

Program Manager, 9 Heavens Healing Academy: You know what the glitter in their eye is? Someone who actually takes a minute out of their life to care about them. You know what the care is? The discipline that we filter through this. And if you don't give it to them they're going to get discipline on the street.

Devon Jones:

Co-Founder, YAAACE: You know, when these kids do well they want us to know and it's evident when they do things they are not supposed to they don't want us to know.

Curtis Bell:

All this is, is lessons, life lessons my man.

Curtis Bell:

Program Manager, 9 Heavens Healing Academy: These are just a bunch of Black men that care about Black youth. Period.


6'2" already. Grade seven.

On-screen Text:

The 9 Heavens Healing Academy pilot project received funding through the Youth Justice Fund Guns, Gangs and Drugs and Drug Treatment Components. Funding for this component is provided under the National Anti-Drug Strategy.

For more information about funding under the National Anti-Drug Strategy, please visit nationalantidrugstratgy.gc.ca

©Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada, represented by Justice Canada, 2011.

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