As a Commerce student at Queen’s School of Business, I enjoy going to different conferences and meeting lots of interesting new people. Among them, Steve Leafloor is definitely one of my favourite speakers. I met him at Queen’s Conference of Philanthropy (QCOP). He founded an organization called BluePrintForLife.ca, aiming to heal troubled teens from their traumas. I respect him for what he has done, and all the differences he made in young people’s lives. Luckily enough, I was able to schedule an interview with him after the conference. Guess what, he is not only an amazing hip-hop dancer who founded an awesome company, he is also a Queen’s Alumni! We had a good 1 hour talk about him and BluePrintForLife during the interview. Let’s get into more details about it:
Q: Can you give us some background information about yourself?
A: I am 54 years old, a father of three. I grew up near Windsor, Ontario, and my father was a pastor at a local church. I ‘m from a family of 9; three of us kids were only one year a part from each other. As you have known, I was severely bullied by the boys in my school and was really hurt from it. You can learn more about my background if you check out my TED Talks, where I talked a lot about what I have been through.
Q: How was your university experience like at Queen’s?
A: My father actually won the Tri-Color Award at Queen’s. So every time I got into trouble, Padre Lavertry would be like: “Mr. Leafloor, I know your father.” That was the interesting part of going to the same university as your father, especially when he has won one of the highest awards in the school. For me, the important part of going to university is that it was a whole new group of people. Everyone got to know me as the crazy creative guy who was constantly doing pranks around the campus. It was a great chance for me to reclaim confidence. I am an Arts82 majored in Psychology. I was the head cheerleader for Queen’s and that’s actually how I met my wife. My wife and I went to Europe and Africa together, where I used dance to meet people. It was amazing because whenever I dance, we were not seen as a tourist anymore. Hip-hop is such a multicultural art that will embrace you with the community, it is like magic. In my mind, Hip-hop is such a great gift for the world. I volunteered with an organization called Queen’s Camp Outlook; It was my first experience doing outreach. We worked with 15-16 year old kids who were involved with probation or from group homes and really connected with them. It was that experience when I found out that I really had a talent of talking to angry young people. That was also when I decided to be a social worker rather than being a teacher.
Q: What did you do as a social worker?
A: In my first job I worked as a prohibition officer, and was responsible for 15 young people. It was an interesting experience because I got to peep into people’s lives and learn about how complex they are. It really helped to turn me into a non-judgemental person. You cannot simply blame other people for what had happened. It also made me think about our education, can our education really give students the skills they needed to cope with all the difficulties that might happen in their lives? I realized after I got my master degree in Social Work that the more we learn, the more we realize how little we know. I have worked many front lined jobs over 30 years a social worker but being a child abuse investigator was the hardest job I have ever done. I’ve dealt with many young children who were sexually abused I dealt with all the heart breaking traumas that happened to these young kids. It was not a pleasant thing to do. I always came home with a heavy heart and lots of things going on in my mind. During those times, I would go Kayaking and set myself free from all the sadness and stress from work. Nature really has the power to set me free and let me calm down. It was about having good strategies on how it’s not going to burn you out. Now I am not freaked out anymore, I am passionate about what I am doing, and I have a steady hand to deal with troubled young people and provide them with what they really need.
Q: How did the idea “BluePrint for Life” come about?
I have been a Bboy through all my life. I have never stopped dancing since 1983. I still have close relationships with my breaker friends. We actually just got together and celebrated our crew’s 30th anniversary before this Christmas. (The Canadian Floor Masters). We’ve seen how it helped young people to get through difficulties in their lives. For me, it was fascinating to see changes in teenagers’ lives, to see them growing into young men and young women. I worked closely with the Inuit in Nunavut since my sister married a local Inuit man in Iqaluit and had 3 children together. I realized how little resources people had in the north. So we decided to organize week long intensives where we became the entire school for a week. Connecting with their kids and working on healing and all the complex issues in their lives. They had so much fun and became engaged in their lives. It was amazing for us to see the changes within the kids during the final night shows and dance battles. The parents got so shocked seeing their kids working in teams and making new friends. This also empowered them to be proud of their own culture. I went back and presented my experience with my co-workers at Children’s Aid, and then the phone calls started to come in. With the power of word of mouth, I created a business model, which is BluePrintForLife. We’ve worked now in over 50 First Nations and Inuit remote communities in over 80 projects. Multiple documentaries have been produced on our work and we have received a number of national and international awards. Everyday our programing continues to become more refined and creative in how we approach the complex trauma that many youth have experienced.
Q: Mental health is a problem that people face all the time, not only teenagers. What are your thoughts about improving mental health education among the youths and the community as a whole?
A: I think Queen’s is showing interests to position itself as a mental health leader in this in Canada. However, I believe that we never put enough attention on mental health. If we don’t prepare our young people with the skills they need to cope with future problems, then their life is going to be hard to deal with by themselves. Also, teenagers now face lots of pressures coming from different perspectives—their parents, their friends and etc. I feel mental health problems exist in a lot of cultures that more and more teens are starting to question this themselves. Because of our unique approaches we have been invited to lots of events in Healthcare, Education and Justice. I was invited to represent Canada at international conferences on Justice to talk about our unique youth corrections work with Gang involved youth, along with speaking at the national conference for social workers. We have also spoken at many conferences on Education as we are a solid model of creative alternative education that also addresses healing and cultural pride. I definitely look forward to coming to Queen’s more often and talking about education and about mental health related problems, I will be really happy and excited to talk to Queen’s students about skills they need to learn about mental health.
Q: Where have you and your team been to?
A: We are mostly working with the Inuit communities. There is a map on our website that shows where we have been to. We have also worked right across Canada with many first Nations including the Cree, Dene, Selkirk First Nation, Blackfoot and Cowichan tribes on Vancouver Island. We’ve have also done city work in Calgary and Edmonton where we have worked in youth prisons. One of my new staff recently was the lead in the touring musical show “Stomp”, Thus, we have included a lot of other forms such as stomping and rapping in our activities. Things have evolved and become more sophisticated. The program is so different from 7 years ago.
Q: How have you been able to fund the activities?
A: Most of our funds are provided by the communities or the government who invited us over. Our next step is to partner with some other organizations to bring us to new communities in need.
Q: What has been your most memorable moment so far?
A: There have been so many moments that I will never forget in my life. One of the most memorable ones was that time when we worked with the tough gang kids in the prison. You know about gang kids, they seldom let down their guard. We have this one kid, whose friend almost beat him to death. His friend threatened him that “next time I see you I will kill you.” I was worried about this kid, so I talked to him during our lunch time, which is a free time period from all the activities. He said:” I have nobody in my life, teach me a few moves please so I can get some status in here.” So I taught him a few moves and he did an amazing job in the final dance off. He came over to me afterwards and said:” Buddha, It would mean a lot to me – would you mind if I call you Uncle Buddha in the future?” Of course I was more than happy to say yes. Two years later, when I went back to the same prison I saw the kid. I did not even remember his name but I still remember his face, so I went up to him and said:” Hey nephew, how is it going, man?” And he showed me the biggest smile. I can never forget the kid’s smile. Because I know how hard it is for gang kids to show any public invulnerability. It was absolutely amazing. However, that was only one of the most memorable moments I have, so many things like this happened in the communities we worked in. It was absolutely an amazing thing to see.
When we do our work it feels and taste like hope -not only with the youth but in the whole community. I think creating hope is the right place to start.
To see many videos and pictures on our work please visit: http://blueprintforlife.ca