Proud of Edmonton’s Social Initiatives

by Sareeta Lopez

Back in September, the #MakeItAwkward campaign was born. If you don’t know what that is, here’s a description of what happened from the website:

Jesse Lipscombe was the victim of a verbal racial attack in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, while he was shooting a PSA for the city downtown. The attack was caught on camera and the video quickly went viral. 

Jesse was hurt by the incident, and disappointed that this kind of racism continues to exist in our city. But he was even more struck by the amount of love and support he received from his community, the entire country, and even the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Ultimately, he decided to turn a negative incident into a positive.

On Friday, September 2, he and his wife, Julia Lipscombe, met with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, and the #MakeItAwkward campaign was born.

These are real people in our very city.

Jesse Lipscombe’s experience isn’t rare. It doesn’t feel safe to be a person of colour. There is heightened racial tension and fear as a result of the US election and the mosque shooting in Quebec. Now more than ever, it’s important to stand up against racism, especially if you are in a privileged position to do something about it.

Edmontonians know this: in the face of all this violence and hatred, the people in this city have demonstrated a beautiful tolerance and acceptance of different religions and races. They have continued to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, peace, and love for all. They have taken action.

Soon after the mosque shooting in Quebec, Edmontonians held a candlelight vigil to honour those affected. Hundreds attended in solidarity of the Muslim community in Edmonton and across Canada. In the weeks following, many mosques received messages of support, demonstrating that our citizens were standing together against forces that would separate them.

Later on, The Black Arts Matter multidisciplinary festival was held from February 9th to February 19th, featuring incredible black artists based in Edmonton including musicians, dancers, and writers alike. As their website reads, “Black Arts Matter is a reminder of what growth is possible when we choose truth, community, and art.” It featured many art forms: fusions of Hip Hop and West African dance; Afro-Caribbean dance; spoken word, as well as workshops surrounding the black Muslim experience; the community’s relationship with the media; honest expression in writing and poetry; passion-driven marketing and business; a playwright masterclass; and many celebratory performances.

The city also came together for the Women’s Memorial March on February 14th to honour the missing and murdered Indigenous women of Alberta — though admittedly, it was a march that didn’t get nearly enough attention as the earlier Women’s March did. As the event’s website highlights, “Indigenous women disproportionately continue to go missing or be murdered with minimal to no action to address these tragedies or the systemic nature of gendered violence, poverty, racism, or colonialism.” This march is centered around the continuing struggle of this community, and in Canada’s sesquicentennial, should challenge what it means to be a Canadian.

On February 18th, I had the pleasure of attending an poetry jam event that was held as part of Edmonton’s Anti-Racism Film Festival. There were incredible pieces shared at the event. Marginalized voices were loud and clear: voices that might not have been heard otherwise. At the start of the each poem, we would raise their fists in solidarity chanting “3, 2, 1 — breathe!” Tiffany C. E. Walsh’s poem in particular resonated with me well because she spoke about how, as an Indian girl growing up, she was always told she was so lucky for being pale; her mother and aunts were implying that having dark brown skin wasn’t pretty. Her poem ended with her telling her mother that she is beautiful the way she is. The honesty and raw emotion in voices such as hers nearly brought me to tears a number of times.

16797467_1812146779049616_4909104806152199013_o Tiffany C. E. Walsh delivering her poem at the Anti-Racism Festival Poetry Jam

 The Anti-Racism Festival also consisted of a 48-hour film challenge for which the Red Carpet Screening will take place on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. You can RSVP here to attend for free at the Princess Theatre. The night will showcase the completed films and aligns with the festival’s goal of helping mitigate racism by actively allowing citizens to participate and stand against it.

Edmonton is an inspiration. We came together in solidarity in order to fight discrimination, and we continue to #MakeItAwkward. It goes without saying: I am so proud to be a part of this city. We are speaking, and we are listening.

But we cannot stop here. With Black History Month over, do not go back to your routine. Instead, continue to demonstrate the strength we have when we work together. Continue to organize rallies and festivals. Go big and start a new annual tradition that focuses on discrimination. Or start small: create a piece of art and share it. Start a band. Write a monologue. Hand out flowers. Everything you do matters.

What will you do to support marginalized people this year? Share in the comments below.

Sareeta is the blogger behind Flight & Scarlet, an Edmonton-based blog with the aim of making feminism and related topics more accessible and less elitist, as well as helping fellow survivors of rape find support. In her spare time, Sareeta likes watching Netflix, reading, going for walks, and playing with her little cat, Matrix. If you would like to connect with her, leave a comment or find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest!

Photography courtesy of Quais Amer and the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation

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