Last Stop on the @CRRF Road Show #CBECAP

The CRRF road team in Calgary Yesterday was the third and final stop in a series of events put together by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in collaboration with the Winnipeg, Halton and Calgary boards of education. This was a great group of people to work with and - while it is naturally sad to come to the end of our time together and I wish we could do more events across the country - there is a whole other level of bittersweetness to the end of this collaboration.

First, a little background on the Foundation:
Back in 1988, the Government of Canada and the National Association of Japanese Canadians signed the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement. It was a way to acknowledge and atone for the terrible injustices suffered by Canadians of Japanese heritage during the second world war. Perhaps the most generous and optimistic gesture to come out of that agreement was the formation of a national foundation dedicated to the elimination of racism in Canadian society. The federal government proclaimed the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Act into law on October 28, 1996 and the Foundation officially opened its doors in Toronto in November 1997. (That's current CRRF Executive Director Anita Bromberg pictured holding Voyageur in the centre of our little gang). Given the dedication of Six String Nation to similar principles of openness and inclusion and given the presence of the swatch of fabric from the Vancouver Asahi baseball jersey in the collection of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre that shares its offices with the CRRF, I was especially honoured to be asked to participate in this three-event program.

So the events worked like this: the local boards assembled groups of student leaders to participate in a day dedicated to learning about ways to fight racism, homophobia and other forms of exclusion in their schools and communities and bussed them to a central location. The day started with the Six String Nation presentation as a way of introducing the students to at least one way of confronting stereotypes and creating a vision for a deeply inclusive Canada. After that, the students broke out into groups to do workshops with Matthew Johnson (pictured next to me, second from left) about applying critical thinking to media and social constructions that lead to scapegoating, othering, and various forms of bias; Rani Sanderson (pictured right) on finding ways to articulate and express your own personal story as a way of connecting with others; and Cat Criger (pictured second from right) on how to employ an indigenous way of looking at the world every day and in all facets of life. It all wrapped up with an inspiring challenge to participating students from equity and human rights speaker, author and songwriter Chris D'Souza (pictured, rear) to take the lessons of the day back into their schools and communities with real passion. Chris played Voyageur as part of that closing address.

We met some great students (and teachers and administrators) at each event and from sitting in on all the workshops I know that the students got a lot out of the experience. But here's the really bittersweet part of this whole thing for me:
I remember thinking as a kid that there was no way racism would survive as a way of looking at people and the world. It just seemed an enormous amount of negative energy required to sustain a worldview that made no sense, had no basis in fact and poisoned the whole environment even for those who held that view. It just seemed like a spent force that would disappear as the world progressed. And yet, while we were doing the event in Winnipeg, Anita had to excuse herself from the room to deal with phone calls about vandalism at mosques and synagogues in various parts of Canada and a white-supremacist demonstration planned in Alberta. At the event in Milton, Chris told me that his kid's hockey team had decided that they wouldn't stand behind his own brown-skinned son if the team was somehow detained at the U.S. border on the way to a tournament in Detroit. Donald Trump took another crack at his travel ban, the Canadian Girl Guides and the Toronto District School Board announced cancellation of planned trips to the U.S., and coming back from dinner our first night here in Calgary we learned of the terrorist attack in London.

I really enjoyed my time working with these great people and I feel like we accomplished what we set out to do but it's so very clear that so much more needs to be done and in this climate, the problem I thought would be all but gone by the time I was an adult, seems more monumental than ever.

Thanks to my teammates and to all of the participants in Winnipeg, Milton and Calgary. Thanks also to everyone at the CRRF, including Suren Nathan and Len Rudner for pulling together all the details. And a special thanks to Paul Delaney for getting the whole ball rolling.

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