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Race, health and happiness: U of T researcher launches well-being podcast focused on racialized groups

The team behind the “Race Health & Happiness” podcast. Back row, from left to right: Semipe Oni, Bhavna Samtani and Obadiah George. Front row, from left to right: Onye Nnorom and Karl Kabasele (photo by Françoise Makanda)

A new podcast hosted by a University of Toronto researcher aims to help racialized people thrive and stay well.

The podcast, called “Race Health & Happiness,” is the brainchild of Onye Nnorom, who is a doctor and an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and in the Faculty of Medicine’s department of family and community medicine.

“It’s not a podcast where we start explaining racism and if there is any in Canada,” Nnorom says. “The assumption is that the listener understands that. This podcast is like course 201. Now, we think about staying well, thriving and finding joy.

“Centre stage is the Black, Indigenous and people of colour experience. It’s an opportunity to understand how groups have thrived and survived systemic racism. At its core, it’s how we overcome and enjoy despite life challenges.”

Upcoming episodes will feature guests like life coach Ritu Bhasin, former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes and renowned film and music director Director X.

Listen to the Race Health & Happiness podcast

Nnorom got the idea from talking with students. She has always been vocal about the impact of racism on health, but discovered that racialized students wanted more.

“They said, ‘We understand what you say about racism and how it impacts people’s stress levels and how it’s incorporated into our institutions unintentionally – so how do we stay well from issues like microaggression, and understanding the lack of opportunities we may face?’” says Nnorom. “I didn’t have the answer to that – yes, there is some research, but I think community wisdom is a critical part of that answer.”

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Onye Nnorom (far right) interviews Director X (left) for her new podcast “Race, Health & Happiness” (photo by Françoise Makanda)

Nnorom enlisted the help of other Dalla Lana alumni, staff and students like Dr. Karl Kabasele, Obadiah George and Semipe Oni and Bhavna Samtani to produce the podcast. In one of the first two available episodes, she explores the duality first-generation Canadians face coming from a culture that emphasizes community while entering a society that prefers individuality.

“How do you stay true to yourself and your own value which might not always be the same as the dominant culture or the Canadian culture, and the second is how you find the middle ground where you don’t have to be performing or pretending to be something that you are not, but still be able to do well in this society and stay well,” Nnorom says.

She sees commonalities in the ways her guests stay well, noting that they stress the importance of connection and community among all backgrounds.

“Find a community with people who are like you and those who are not like you to connect with. That’s the beauty of Canada. Even though there is a lot of isolation, especially in the way our Western culture is structured, lots of different cultures have a tradition of that kind of connectedness,” says Nnorom.

Nnorom looked at various media options and settled on a podcast. Her hope is to reach students and their counterparts through a non-traditional medium that will allow her to delve into topics mainstream media may not entertain.

Although the podcast won’t explain racism, she hopes it will help all listeners understand the issues racialized people face.

“Perhaps it will help people to understand that extra layer of challenges experienced by racialized people, so I hope that it creates some sort of understanding, or inspiration to become an ally.”

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