Perspectives on Belonging from Vancouver, B.C.

The Human Right Internet has been around and doing good work for some time.  Money is raised to fund projects by individuals and community social justice groups wanting to move the human rights agenda forward across Canada.  The geographical target shifts for the annual funding initiatives around Canada.  

Medicine Wheel teachings by Joyce Perrault for students, teachers, and parents.

In 2020, Ottawa and Toronto / Greater Toronto Area were the target locations for small grants.  Prior to that Winnipeg, and this past year, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.  Fighting Racism Through Human Rights is the focus area.  On the website, HRI.ca, you can check out the Canadian Human Rights Institutions Interactive Map that highlights the human rights institutions and activity across Canada.

A local HRI committee is formed and provides parameters and general themes for project submissions. Applications for small grants are varied. A local group is formulated to review submissions, and award up to $2,000.00 for community projects. The rainbow staircase in celebration of Pride Week and inclusiveness at Point Grey Secondary School welcomes all students as they use the east entrance. It is one example of a HRI funded project. Other projects include film productions, art displays and community actions.

Point Grey Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C.,
welcomes all to work, learn, and play.

The COVID pandemic has certainly posed challenges to doing this work.  Pulling focus groups together with the promise of lively conversation and good food was no longer an option.  ZOOM fatigue has been an issue, as all communications have moved online.  People have been too taxed for yet another online meeting.  There has also been a fair amount of trepidation around face to face interviews.  The availability of a vaccine is beginning to alleviate some of that stress.  

The emergence of the Black Lives Matter Movement posed new opportunities and new challenges. Many people have stepped up to engage more actively in human rights work. A plethora of material has been published and consumed by readers hungry to learn more. I have been able to develop an amazing lending library of titles that open up conversations, new thinking, and provide strategies for us to grapple with difficult content.

I am working with a small committee to make sense of how we are able to move forward with the work in a positive, proactive way and make the best use of our HRI small grant. Our initial goal was to develop a documentary that would provide a number of perspectives about race with the intent of facilitating conversation around the creation of welcoming spaces in schools, community groups, places of worship, and small businesses. Participants would reflect diversity but people who were white or white passing would be also be included. The philosophy is that inclusive environments require the personal investment, buy in, and voices of all of the people in society. Through empathy for other experiences and perspectives, we are able to move forward with shared understanding. We may not reach consensus on all issues but we can also compromise strive to meet all the needs of members in the group.

Immediately we encountered a number of challenges.  Hiring a videographer to interview and collate the material was problematic.   Hourly rates and requests for equipment made it uncertain to whether we could end up with a finished product before the money ran out. Following recommendations of the public health officer, considering comfort zone of interviewees, and understanding of the content was required to prepare the interviewees. Plus the prevalent American context was directing the conversation and people’s responses.  Through many discussions with others, we discovered  that the questions we initially formulated were directing the responses too much and resulting in less depth than desired.  

Our committee came to the conclusion that the conversation boils down to the conversation about the feelings of “belonging” and the feelings of “otherness”. Racism and anti-racism are part of that conversation. This made sense for the three of us. We are all educators and part of our life work has been to create inclusive classrooms so all students are ready and able to engage in learning. Sandy Murray has done this through her work as a music educator using song experience games and in her work at the University of the Fraser Valley with pre-service teachers. Susan Ruzic and I got to know each other through our engagement in human rights work that expanded beyond our classrooms. Creating inclusive spaces were part of her work in her elementary school classroom and in her work as The Social Justice representative at the British Columbia Teachers’ Association. It was also part of my work teaching Kindergarten to Grade 12, teaching adults in China and at Simon Fraser University, chairing the Multicultural and Anti-Racism Committee in SD #43 and doing field work as an Amnesty International member.

Susan and I have also had the experience of parenting our children in a multicultural context.   Both her biracial son and my children with German, Scottish and Irish ancestry, grew up with friend groups that were racially very diverse.  Knowing how to use chopsticks well was a badge of honour, as was being invited to participate in the cultural traditions of their friends.  I think back fondly of the Easter Sunday that my daughter, Larkyn, and her best friend, Jasmine, wore their South Asian suits to church.  Canada has welcomed immigrants and refugees for many years, and many families with diverse ethnicities and cultural traditions live, work, and play together.  We do not have gated communities or expectations of segregated living.  However the Truth and Reconciliation Commission exposed the efforts by the Canadian government to decimate the Indigenous population through residential schools and other mechanisms of structural racism.  It also increased the awareness and the scrutiny of how this has been applied to other racial groups.  

Our committee worked on creating broad questions around belonging that would help people tell their own stories.  Feedback has ranged from wanting questions that are more broad or more specific, more options and fewer options.  In the end, I distributed, microphones for phones, tripods, lighting equipment and the green screen and set people off to engage interested people in their circles in conversations.  Participants reflect the perspectives of a diverse range of Vancouverites who are interested in creating inclusive spaces where people could come together.  We also wanted it to stimulate discussion of how a sense of belonging is established , how people are made to feel like outsiders, and how we deal positively and proactively with inter-cultural communication, conflicts of opinion, and systemic racism. This could be within schools, community groups, places of worship, or in small business contexts. 

Our committee realized that we were going to need to reframe the way we did the work.  I took some online courses to help me with the technical aspects of the project and discovered that a documentary was too big a bite.  I have a lot to learn to accomplish that task. The problem of being a global thinker!  However we did come up with a plan to move forward largely thanks to Sol Kay and her documentary series www.youtube.com/c/INNERLIGHTJOURNEY.  Her interviews took place in a number of venues.  She interview me about mindfulness in my school garden.  She let me chose the topic and just let me talk.  Then she listened to all of the interviews and enlisted help to group them according to general themes. Follow the link above to see the results.  I thought it was brilliant.  I have assumed the role as our tech person and now have enough working knowledge of Keynote, iMovie, and the filming and sound requirements for us to move forward.  Special thanks to Shelly Saves the Day @shellysavesthe, Steve Dotto @dottotech, and my niece, Anna.  Rather than relying on a videographer, we invested the money in purchasing our own equipment with multiple microphones to plug into our phones and tripods to create content on the Inquire2Empower YouTube channel.

Beginning August 1st, one iMovie will be posted with one person’s story on the YouTube channel – Carrie Froese under the Perspectives on Belonging playlist. Topics addressed will include but are not limited to: What makes people feel like they belong? What makes people feel like an outsider? What role does racism play in the lives of Vancouverites? How do people engage in being an anti-racist? Follow the link https://youtu.be/SqI0zK-MlpY and start having your own conversations to create inclusive spaces and places and challenge systemic racism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s