Local hero: Randell Adjei, founder of event series and artist incubator RISE

"We call ourselves 'art-ivists.' We make our art to inspire, empower and make a difference in our world."


RISE open mic at Burrows Hall Community Centre (1081 Progress, Scarborough), every Monday, doors 6:30 pm. $3. riseedutainment.com.


During our brief stroll around Kensington Market, several people greet Randell Adjei. He excuses himself each time to warmly embrace every smiling acquaintance.

“I’ll never really, truly understand the impact of the work that I do,” he says. “I don’t think any of us understands its impact.” 

The friendliness he attracts is a testament to how beloved RISE (the acronym stands for Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere) has become. In April, the weekly arts and events series and artist incubator celebrated its fifth anniversary at Daniels Spectrum with performances, a talk-back and an awards ceremony honouring key community members.

Adjei put on the first RISE event at 19, an age when most of us are just trying to figure out what to do next. He knew he wanted to serve the community. 

“I want to give space to other people because it’s not all about me,” he explains. “Initially, when people think about RISE, they think about me, but I want them to think about how they fit inside of it, too, and how all of us have contributed to it.”

RISE has grown from an open mic event to a collective that hosts performances, workshops and retreats, aiming to provide a platform across the city for marginalized and racialized communities to share their stories, nurture their talents and learn practical skills like financial literacy at its RISE Wealth Collective info sessions. RISE Poetry Mondays, its weekly showcase at Burrows Hall Community Centre in Scarborough, features poetry and musical performances by artists of all ages. A writer, poet and educator, Adjei has shared his experiences in TEDx Talks, amassed honours and awards for his work as a promoter of social change and has plans for a book.

What inspired you to start RISE?

Talking to a few of my friends and hearing some of the challenges that they were going through. Whether they were like, “I wish my dad was here,” or, “I wish my mom was present in my life,” certain experiences that we went through as children have really impacted us in a huge way. There wasn’t a space or outlet to talk about these things, and I said to myself, “Why don’t we have this in Scarborough or in Toronto?”

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Samuel Engelking

How do you find performers?

It’s always been word of mouth. People have been looking for a space like this for a long time. For the first event, we opened the floor and people came and did their thing. One or two people went, three people got inspired, and another person got inspired. It went from three performers to nine. Then they told their friends, and, yo, word of mouth is a really powerful thing. The next week people were lining up to perform, and every week people just kept lining up.

What do you think RISE has meant to the community?

I know it’s changed a lot of people’s lives. It’s given them hope for their future. It’s given a voice to a community of silenced people, especially people of colour. And that’s really important to me. I feel like it’s also given people a sense of identity. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and here all of us bring in the best of us and help raise each other. It’s given people a lot of opportunities to share their stories, which is really important in this time.

What distinguishes RISE events from other community arts events?

When we talk about safe spaces, sometimes that gets diluted in privileged spaces. Because they have the money, they think they can make a safe space. But when we talk about a safe space, it means a place you feel comfortable in, no judgment, a place where you can be authentic and genuine. The brand [we’ve built] has been known for that: making positivity cool.

RISE is for anybody because everybody needs healing and a safe space. But specifically it’s for people of colour – people who are usually underprivileged, silenced, marginalized, racialized.

RISE seems like more than just an events series.

It’s more of a movement of people finding their voices, looking to discover themselves and find their purpose and make the world a better place. We call ourselves “art-ivists.” We make our art to inspire, empower and make a difference in our world. 

shantalo@nowtoronto.com | @Shantal_Ot

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