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This week, we feature one of the powerful and inspirational speakers that shared her story at the Empower Me event hosted by the Southern African Embrace Foundation last March 9 in Toronto. Her name is Rhonelle Bruder.

Rhonelle talks about how feeling powerless was already prevalent in her young childhood having been placed for adoption at the age of 3 by her own mother due to poverty. Growing up in a town and school where she was the only person of African descent, she suffered much discrimination and powerlessness. It was also to much despair that, still in her youth, her adoptive parents both suffered from mental illness. This led her to discontinue her studies in high school and leave home.

Her journey was far from relief as she ended up on the streets of Toronto. She survived with the help of Covenant House, an agency serving at-risk, homeless, and troubled youth. But here she also met certain individuals that eventually led her to another dark path of exploitation, manipulating her through her vulnerabilities of basic needs to survive and to belong. The string of powerlessness came at its peak when she ended up witnessing the physical abuse of a young woman she could not save, that could very well have been herself. This was the turning point that made her decide to escape that life, and into another journey hoping for a better life.

This next chapter of her life was unfortunately that of an abusive relationship while she was with child, which again led her to leave with just her and her very young daughter. At this point, the powerlessness had to end. Rhonelle decided to open her eyes, see her value, and embrace true empowerment.

Now, Rhonelle is a holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Administration, and had recently completed her masters of Healthcare Informatics. She has worked in multiple leading healthcare institutions across Ontario as a researcher and analyst.

"I was never really powerless. I always had everything I needed inside of me. I just couldn't see it. And the moment I opened my eyes and I saw my value, I knew that I was unstoppable." - Rhonelle Bruder

In the summer of 2018, Rhonelle founded The Rise Initiative with the aim to inspire members of the community to become agents of change, to "help vulnerable youth who are exploited, abused, alone and scared" as she once was. Rhonelle has been advocating for survivors of human trafficking, for homeless youth, and for girls of African descent. She has partnered with various non-profit organizations and continues to advocate for support and funding for her cause.

"It wasn't until I started helping other people that I felt empowered... we are not empowered unless we start empowering each other." - Rhonelle Bruder


  • Rhonelle’s early life experiences
  • Growing up with an adoptive family in a predominantly white community
  • Her personal struggles with discrimination in school, and family issues after her parents had suffered from mental illness
  • Her experience leaving home and ending up in the streets of Toronto
  • How she got manipulated into a life that exploited her vulnerabilities
  • How she finally got to embrace true empowerment
  • How she currently helps the troubled and exploited youth


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