Skip to content

Gilad Cohen, International Development, 2011
Founder and Executive Director of Jayu


Photo Credit: Katy Chan

JAYU is a Toronto-based charity committed to sharing human rights stories through the arts and the 2020 Toronto Arts Foundation ARTS FOR YOUTH AWARD winner.

Shortly after graduating from university and an eye-opening trip to North Korea, Gilad knew he wanted to pursue a career in International Development. “What I appreciated most about Humber’s program was that it was taught by industry experts who were thoughtful and caring and the field placement opportunity provided valuable hands-on experience.” Much of what he carried with him to JAYU came from his teachings at Humber including how to involve the community itself in any community-driven initiative or project in terms of design and implementation. “At JAYU, we do several projects with equity-deserving populations and central to our success is involving the community we serve in as many decision-making processes as possible.”

A few years before he enrolled at Humber, Gilad taught English in South Korea. While there, he had a unique opportunity to visit North Korea. “The trip was unusual. There was a lot of control around who we could talk to, where we could go and even the pictures we could take.” Adamant to learn more, Gilad educated himself and began volunteering with North Korean refugee resettlement organizations and partaking in other humanitarian efforts. 


“Ultimately, I realized that film, and art has this unmatched ability to break barriers, build empathy and create vibrant spaces for change. I started what is now called The Human Rights Film Festival – JAYU’s marquee 10-day long event celebrated each December during International Human Rights Month – as a means of connecting audiences to urgent and compelling stories.”

While historically screening films, JAYU rebranded the festival in 2020 as HRFF+ and began incorporating other forms of social justice arts presentations including spoken word poetry slams, a comedy night, workshops, keynotes, awards and more. “The festival is our way of bringing together our community and exposing them to art and artists that will lead to conversations about equity, equality and justice. We’re excited to present our 10th annual Human Rights Film Festival from December 1-10, 2021.”

Each of JAYU’s programs offers different experiences, but central to everything is using the arts as a way of engaging the world in necessary and, at times, urgent conversations. Through The Hum, JAYU interviews remarkable individuals from former child soldiers to individuals who have been wrongfully incarcerated, refugees and survivors of unimaginable injustices. In 2020, as a response to the pandemic, JAYU introduced Last Tuesdays offering an accessible and free virtual arts experience. The iAM Program provides free arts and social justice mentorship through photography, filmmaking, poetry and more to equity-deserving youth aged 12-26 helping them become the storytellers of tomorrow. 

“Most recently, we completed a two-week photography and poetry training with Indigenous youth in Kitchener exploring themes of reconciliation, identity, aspirations and connection to the land. The project will culminate in a youth-led exhibition which will debut at our film festival in December, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone!”

It took a heartbreaking amount of time in Gilad’s life to find a mentor who told him to follow his dreams and work in the arts. “As a young person, I didn’t realize that working as an artist or for an arts organization was a sustainable way of living. I also spent far too much time thinking of reasons something wouldn’t work rather than focusing on the positive. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on something you’re deeply passionate about and don’t give up if it doesn’t click the way you expected at first.” It took several years working with JAYU before Gilad got a paycheque. The organization now employs nine full-time workers and impacts a growing community full of richness and diversity.

Do you have a story to tell about your career since graduating from Humber?