For over 30 years, Ken Opaleke has been an inspiration to thousands of Manitoban youths
West Broadway Youth Outreach, or WBYO, is a drop-in recreational & life skills program for youth ages 4 and up in Winnipeg’s West Broadway area & beyond. Thousands of children participated in the program and we interviewed Executive Director Ken Opaleke to learn more.
TDS asked, why did you start the organization and what does it represent?
“It’s very simple; my grandmother, my idol, basically walked on water. On a weekly basis in Jamaica, she said something to the effect of, “A life not lived in the service of others is a life wasted.” This maxim was coupled with one of my first Canadian experiences–being punched in the face by an older neighbourhood child, no more than 14 hours in the country.
40ft from my first Canadian dwelling, I had a bully. He stole the first new toy I ever owned, a byway blow up ball. That moment lent to shaping me and an angry, defensive personality for quite a number of years. This attitude is starkly different from the WBYO logo.
The logo represents a diverse group of kids interacting in a positive way, not bullying each other. The yellow colour of West Broadway Youth Outreach represents the centre of the Jamaican flag. Yellow stands for sunshine and positivity.
The reason the logo is a circle is because the first adult to be nice to me in Canada was a neighbour by the name of “Mr. Bird.” He told me about the importance of the Indigenous sharing circle. After meeting Mr. Bird, days later I was at my new school and after three days of being lulled into a false sense of security by my first Canadian teacher, and on the fourth day she stood 2 feet from me and in the middle of a full classroom and said: “We don’t use that jungle talk in this country.” Referring to my strong beautiful Jamaican accent.
Less than a day later Ken was no longer my name as a growing number of children began referring to me as “jungle bunny.” As the number grew without realizing it, so did my level of anger. Three to five fights a week and years with only my grandmother’s voice as a guiding influence in the back of my head, some positive choices to support others started to grow etc. That is why our mantra, “a child’s potential ends just beyond infinity,” it comes from an elderly lady I met on an airplane almost 32 years ago. Her words stuck with me to this day.
With all the terrible treatment I have, and continue to experience in Winnipeg, there’s an extremely angry teenager’s voice who remains at the back of my head. However, there was the soothing and wise voice of my grandmother. Hence why West Broadway Youth Outreach is what it is, or at the very least, continues to attempt to do what it’s doing.”
The impact that the program has made on the community and the city as a whole is the feeling of stability and the opportunity to touch on every life skill that one would need. From sewing to doing their own laundry, career mentorship and everything in between.
There’s a feeling that no matter when or why a kid comes by, they’ll have a safe, positive environment with nurturing staff. Staff who will challenge them, while ensuring they have at least two snacks (really a meal) per day and enjoyable engagement with people of all ages.
Among the aspirations of the many children who have attended West Broadway Youth Outreach is the medicinal field. Though Mr. Opaleke was squeamish during the frog-cutting labs at Miles Mac High School, he recognizes that doctors are important. Just as are electricians, firefighters, store clerks, and lawyers.
The program has a goal: to have ten doctors be past members. As of now, there are six, with the second being Canada’s first black female pediatric surgeon, Dr. Oluwatomilayo Daodu.
West Broadway Youth Outreach provides scholarships to help children achieve their goals and fulfill the program’s mantra. With a short letter of application, members can receive the bursary. WBYO is in the ninth year of its scholarship with four current recipients. If they’re in their first year of the program, they may receive $1000. In their second, $2000. Third, $3000, and et cetera.
The goal is to be with the youth every step of the way with the hope that this support will encourage them to live a life in the service of others.
Ken Opelake has been a part of WBYO for over 30 years and is proud of his achievements. For decades, he has remained sick-day free, always willing to aim and serve his community. He was invested into the Order of Manitoba for his dedication to create a supportive environment for kids in the West Broadway community and beyond. Yet some of his greatest joy serves from him being obsolete.
Empowering a child to the point where they will move on to something greater, without WBYO’s help inspires him. Mr Opaleke speaks so highly and with great admiration for his colleagues and shares a heartfelt thank you to all the families who have entrusted the most valuable part of their lives their children, to him for anywhere from 2 to 45 hours per week.
Mr Opaleke stressed the importance of being well-grounded and being an active member of the community. And that is why is not unusual to find him donating his time to other amazing causes such as the United Way.
To help West Broadway Youth Outreach in their goals, you can donate! There’s an immediate need for masks, water bottles, and other items listed on their website. Visit for more information about this fantastic organization.