“My name is Gilad Cohen and I'm an artist and advocate for human rights. I'm really fascinated with how spaces can be built where we can use creativity as a way of bringing people together to discuss social justice, inequity, and have the sorts of conversations necessary to build a more equitable, better world for everyone. That passion led me to starting JAYU, a Toronto-based human rights charity.
“Our goal at JAYU is to share human rights stories through the arts. We do that through engaging, accessible and free programming that we offer throughout the year which includes our annual Human Rights Film Festival (HRFF+), our human rights podcast The Hum, our monthly arts events and our iAM Program—an initiative that provides arts and social justice mentorship to hundreds of equity-deserving youth across Ontario each year.
“A few years ago, when our iAM Program expanded outside of Toronto and into Mississauga, Toronto Pearson was there as one of our first partners through its Propeller Project. With Toronto Pearson's support, we were able to offer photography, poetry and social justice programming to equity-deserving youth in the Peel Region. With Toronto Pearson's help, that same year we also launched our most successful youth-led exhibition to date, titled AM I WRONG TO LOVE? which focused on the stories of 20 LGBTQIA2S+ refugees who had to flee their homes because of their gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation. That exhibition—which was recently remounted at Pride House at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo—garnered international attention and helped shine an important light on the plight that many from the LGBTQIA2S+ community face.
“I want to continue exploring different ways of eliminating barriers and ensuring that our programming is as accessible as possible for those who want to access it. Most recently, we made the decision to offer all of our year-round programming, including tickets to each of our events at HRFF+ for free, ensuring that nobody is turned away. We also ensure that all of our venues are fully accessible, that every film is captioned and that ASL Interpreters are present at every presentation. While these are important steps, I also acknowledge that accessibility continues to be a moving target and that more work needs to be done to ensure everyone feels welcome and able to participate.
“On the topic of accessibility, I'm most proud of the adjustments we've recently made for our employees at work to prioritize mental health. Last year, we pivoted to a 4-day work week which means that our staff continue to get paid for five days a week, despite working four. Our data shows that it's improved our collective mental health, made us more productive and improved the impact of our year-round work.
“Anyone interested in learning more can visit us at jayu.ca, or follow us on social media at @jayucanada. As a charity, we also depend on the support of our community. Anyone who is interested in making a donation, with a tax receipt, can do so at jayu.ca/donate.”
- Gilad Cohen, Founder and Executive Director, JAYU