Youth must speak up

Youth advocate Darrion Narine wants young people to be more outspoken, especially as it relates to societal issues like racism. Narine has launched an anti-discrimination campaign called RACE (Representing All Cultures Everywhere).  - Darrion Narine
Youth advocate Darrion Narine wants young people to be more outspoken, especially as it relates to societal issues like racism. Narine has launched an anti-discrimination campaign called RACE (Representing All Cultures Everywhere). - Darrion Narine

CONFRONTING social issues like racism and gender discrimination can be intimidating. But youth advocate Darrion Narine wants young people to speak up.

“We as youths enter spaces and feel we need to tiptoe around certain issues and topics. But then, in private, we complain and speak passionately about said issues.

“We don’t have enough honest conservations…we need to speak truth to power,” 25-year-old Narine told Newsday.

As the Commonwealth Youth Council’s (CYC) vice chairperson for inclusion and engagement, Narine represents the Commonwealth’s 1.2 billion young people on youth development issues.

“As it relates to youth development, we (the CYC) do work in the fields of education, health, sport, and gender, to name a few areas.”

Formed in 2013, the CYC creates initiatives to help integrate young people into development work and decision-making processes, at all levels, in commonwealth countries.

Recent CYC initiatives in the commonwealth include the distribution of covid19 relief grants to youth-led NGOs and the creation of youth entrepreneur empowerment projects.

The council has also drafted youth policies that were sent to ministries responsible for youth affairs across the commonwealth.

As vice-chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Darrion Narine, right, participated in an event to commemorate Commonwealth Day in 2018. He spoke with Prince Harry, left, about the CYC’s work to promote and advocate for equality across the Commonwealth. - Darrion Narine

Yet, some issues persist. Youth unemployment, education disparities and finding ways to provide access to adequate skills development, are among them.

And while Narine is working towards making the world a better place, he is starting at home. He is now speaking up about racism in TT, a problem he says has festered for too long.

“I embrace all TT’s different cultures. I read a lot to understand as many different cultures as possible. I have a broad understanding of everyone around, therefore, I can better put things in place to spread knowledge about all these various groups that exist within our society.”

After a number of race-related incidents and social media posts were highlighted during this year's general election season, Narine launched the RACE (Representing All Cultures Everywhere) campaign in August. Created with his friend Nathaniel John, the campaign comprises of online discussions among youth leaders about discrimination in TT based on race, gender, and disabilities.

Proving a platform for open and honest conservations, on issues like discrimination, is one way Narine thinks he can move the needle.

He's no stranger to advocacy. Aspiring to help people, Narine either wanted to be a lawyer or psychologist as a teenager.

“I always had a very deep passion for psychology. Most times I also found myself being that friend everybody turned to for advice, when they had a lot of issues. That further sparked my interest in psychology,” said Narine who often read about psychology in books and online while growing up.

Although he had the grades to study law, he chose psychology for his major at the UWI, St Augustine campus. He also did a minor in theatre arts. After finishing the degree in 2018, he began a master’s in cultural studies, also at UWI. Cultural studies involves learning about the dynamism of power and politics in a societal context.

Narine explained why he chose cultural studies: “I developed a deep fascination with culture and how different people behave in different settings. Especially, how different people interact and affect each other.”

He believes gaining practical knowledge is just as important as academic knowledge, so in UWI, he immersed himself in a number of extra-curricular activities.

“I had a deep love for the student volunteer clubs on campus because I saw them as the heartbeat of the campus.”

A spoken word artist, Narine joined UWE Speak, a collective of spoken word artistes at UWI. He wrote spoken word pieces on topics like economics, race, gender, mental health, democracy, corruption, and politics.

In 2016, he made it to the First Citizens National Poetry Slam finals.

Narine also got involved in student politics. On the St Augustine campus guild, he was national affairs committee chairperson (NACC) from 2016-2017, vice president (2017-2018) and president (2018-2019). As NACC, one of Narine’s role was to increase cultural awareness on campus.

A former president of the UWI St Augustine guild, a performer and an executive member of the Commonwealth Youth Council, life can often get busy for Darrion Narine. - Darrion Narine

Before UWI, he had volunteered with the Living Water Community and was the project manager of the NGO Elijah’s Bread which helped socially displace families access food and educational opportunities.

Balancing studies and so many activities may have been challenging. While he encourages young people to get more involved in advocacy and volunteering, he knows all too well it can come with a cost.

“I sometimes worked until 3 am in the morning developing different projects. I was balancing the (guild) presidency, my school work and then I was also doing the CYC work. I felt a lot of pressure because there was a lot of different people who depended on me. You often times don’t have the leeway to disappoint people,” he said.

At times, personal relationships and having an active social life had to be put aside, but Narine made the sacrifice to keep up with all his duties. He did learn some lessons because of the experience.

“As a youth leader, it’s important to learn the power of the word 'no' and understand the amount of work that you can do. Don’t commit yourself to every piece of work. You can end up seriously burning out yourself. When you burn out, as a youth leader, it’s a serious burnout. The flame (to do the things you do) may not light for a while (after you burnout).”

Narine also credits his family, meditation and prayer with helping him stay focused. Theatre was also an escape.

Currently acting with the DC Shell Theatre, Narine booked his first acting gig at age six. He played a young prince in Comedians Can Cook with Crazy Catholic (Sheldon Narine), Errol Fabien and Learie Joseph.

“I have been an actor for the last 19 years. Performing, acting, and singing is a form of stress relief. It helped me balance a lot.”

In addition to Darrion Narine'’s youth advocacy, he is also an entertainer. Narine, right, and his friend Rizaan Ali at left, perform their Cunumunu at the Chutney Soca Monarch finals in February, placing eighth. - Darrion Narine

As an advocate, Narine has learnt the value of being comfortable in confronting the uncomfortable. So, in 2019, he decided to get uncomfortable and try his hand at music. For Carnival 2020 he and friend Rizaan “Riz” Ali released Cunumunu, a chutney soca track. With no prior experience, the friends entered the Chutney Soca Monarch competition and placed eighth in the final.

Making it clear he isn’t judging other performers, Narine said he simply prefers to make songs with more inspirational lyrics. “The chutney song I produced (this year) was clean…I try to promote good values as opposed to the drinking thing, for example. I try my best to produce stuff that generations can listen to.”

So, what’s next for Narine?

“Honestly, people always ask me what I want to do with my life and what I want to accomplish. This may sound clichéd but the main goal I am aiming for is to be happy and satisfied with whatever I do in life.”

He hopes to finish his master’s degree this year and is currently writing his thesis.

In his CYC role, Narine was planning this year’s Commonwealth Youth Forum to be held in Kigali, Rwanda. Due to covid19, the event has been postponed to 2021.

While his term on the CYC’s executive was due to end in July, it has been extended until 2021 due to covid19.

So, will TT one day see Narine in the halls of Parliament?

Before this year’s general election, he and former members of the UWI St Augustine guild launched an online Youth Votes Matter campaign, aimed at empowering youths to understand the importance of voting.

While he does not rule out the possibility of getting involved in politics, it is not something he is actively giving thought to. For now, keeping focused on his advocacy work and career in the arts, he is open to taking opportunities as they come.

To keep updated with Narine’s advocacy you can follow him on Instagram at @theatrics_868 and on Facebook/LinkedIn at Darrion M Narine. To join the conversation on Narine’s anti-discrimination campaign you can follow the campaign on Instagram @race_tt and on Facebook at RACE TT.


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