This social entrepreneur wants young people to know the sky's the limit
Loreena Gabriel helps students feel pride in who they are and equips them with tools to succeed
CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.
Loreena Gabriel hasn't forgotten what it felt like to work two jobs as she was preparing to graduate from high school.
Faced with the expenses of college and prom, she said, she didn't want to put the burden entirely on her mother when money was tight.
"I remember saying to myself, if I'm able to help someone when I'm older not have to go through all this, I would definitely do that," said Gabriel, who was born and raised in southwest Montreal.
Now a publicist and radio and podcast host, Gabriel made good on that promise to herself with The Crown Project.
She came up with the idea in 2014, as a way of giving back to her community. It began as a winter clothing drive in Little Burgundy but is now so much more.
The Crown Project selects one lucky Montrealer to get a "prom makeover," where Gabriel finds the clothing and accessories that the winning student dreams of wearing on her big night.
Gabriel also runs a pop-up shop around prom season, with donated items available for free. (Last year, due to the pandemic, gift boxes were sent to 20 lucky girls instead.)
"When you're a kid, you don't want to miss out on the fun and the milestones," said Gabriel. "You just want to make sure you have that magical moment one last time with your friends. I know how hard it is sometimes to keep up with the trends and look nice."
Gabriel completed a degree in anthropology and sociology at Concordia University and then studied public relations as she worked to launch a fashion jewelry business.
While that business didn't work out, she said learning about PR opened doors for her, ultimately leading to her career as a publicist and helping her hone the organizational and networking skills that power The Crown Project.
"I didn't know from my experiences where I grew up that that was an option for me," she said.
Through the project, she has also provided Montrealers with school supplies, supported homeless shelters and made donations for hurricane relief in Barbuda and the Bahamas.
To ensure more young people know what's out there, The Crown Project is now expanding to include resources for financial literacy and career development.
"I want it to be more than just that celebratory moment," she said. "I want it to continue on as young kids navigate that journey of figuring out what you want to do."
While she has the support of family and friends, and she partners with different community organizations, she still does the bulk of the planning, fundraising and outreach by herself.
When she has a moment to take a step back, it gives her pride to see how much the project has grown. She hopes others see that small gestures can make a big difference and have the potential to become something larger.
"You see me do these things, you can do it, too," she said. "There doesn't have to be one path."
The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.