A black woman in her mid twenties rose from her seat in the auditorium of the University of Alberta’s Humanities Building. She stood with a quiet confidence, unsure of how the group would react, but certain of her story’s account. Eyes firmly set, she gazed beyond the auditorium, traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to Northern Ireland. The woman, who did not provide her name, described a young, Irish boy in his classroom filled with giddy school children, sitting around a cartoon-animated carpet, proudly proclaiming their dream job.
Reciting “lawyer”, “doctor”, and “engineer” like their favorite soccer teams, the children did not yet understand the weight of their six figure tuition and eight plus years of schooling. These obstacles, albeit conceivable, pale in comparison to what “The Black Kid” in the classroom will face. His name I cannot recall, but “The Black Kid” is a label we are all familiar with, in equal measure as his story. A striking identifier, signalling their difference – that they are the colour of their skin before they are a name or a person, with their narrative following as such. Finally arriving at his place on the carpet, the Irish child of Jamaican descent earnestly replied, “I just want to be white.”.
The audience was suspended in a state of apprehension, in a moment held not in disbelief, on the contrary, it was the way the sentiment prickled the back of the mind with it’s omnipresence. The albino elephant in the room was released from its cage to roam freely, rearing its ugly head. A frank statement about the taboo of racial dynamics was not something I am used to, especially as one of the few white males in the audience. As the conversation flowed, revealing the depths of modern racial disparity, I felt an overwhelming urge to reject discussion labeling me as a perpetrator of oppression. Although, as the conversation percolated my perverse practice of action through non-action, what Taoists decsribe as “wu wei“, became increasingly apparent. Accepting I was part of the problem, my urge to speak dissolved and was replaced with a need to listen.
Generation SHIFT’s founders sat down with The Wanderer to share further.
Maegan Robinson-Anagor, Meghana Valuperadas and Belen Samuel, are the three University of Alberta students who created Generation SHIFT, channeling inequality into a catalyst for change in our generations mindset. The movement is a collaborative platform for open, inclusive conversation about equality, connecting people and creating actionable goals.
Elliot Thanks so much for your time, can you tell me a little bit about Generation SHIFT?
Maegan Generation SHIFT is a youth-led grassroots movement in Edmonton, Alberta. Our intention is to challenge youth to re-evaluate their social constructs, such as gender roles, and recognize they define their reality. We realized equality doesn’t have to begin with an earth shattering revolution – it starts with shifting one’s mindset and hopefully that becomes a catalyst for others as well.
Elliot How does GS work?
Meghana SHIFT takes action by encouraging self-reflection first, examining one’s existing mindsets and how they interact with their world. From there, we invite people to our seminar to share topics that affect them, especially, those which aren’t often discussed.
Elliot What separates Generation SHIFT from other social equality groups in Edmonton?
Belen GS was started by a group of young, ambitious females from diverse, non-white backgrounds. We believe this has allowed for a different perspective on gender and racial equality, one that emphasizes the inclusion of ethnicities.
Elliot When did you first realize you could take action against inequality?
Maegan My parents have always encouraged me, especially my mother, who was a strong advocate for equality. Judy Robinson-Anagor, born and raised in Grenada, was a political activist and community innovator during the Grenadian Revolution and pre-American Invasion during the 1980s. Experiencing the oppressive force of inequality in its full form and realizing she could take action, my mother’s story has been essential in SHIFT’s creation.
Elliot Many people are unaware of their own or others experience with inequality, how could they best engage with SHIFT?
Meghana I think one of the easiest ways is to begin evaluate your thoughts and opinions, begin the shift to start recognizing we all have certain privileges and it’s important to be cognizant of them – something as simple as going to school, having a car or even living in Canada. Recognizing our different advantages and then asking ‘why’ we have them leads to the shift in mindset.
Elliot What’s the GS vision for equality?
Maegan It’s really pretty simple – imagine our capacity as a culture if we were all operating at an even playing level. Our quality of life would significantly rise and the potential to improve community and ourselves would be even that much further ahead!
Elliot Where can people go if they still have more questions or are looking for your next event?
Belen We have a Facebook page or Twitter and Instagram @genSHIFTyeg or our Youtube Page Generation SHIFT. More importantly, just start asking questions; thinking about why things are what they are, it’s really the baby steps that’ll get us towards the big picture.
I am thankful for the discussions Maegan and the SHIFT team have afforded us, allowing me to better digest the shock of discovering invisible barriers and privileges that we all carry. It starts with shifting my mindset and from there we can change our generation.
Photography courtesy of Generation SHIFT.