Since the ensuing unrest in the United States brought to the forefront, yet again, the issue of systemic racism with the unconscionable death of George Floyd, we at CJA Durham have been working diligently on our messaging and what we can do to support our Black staff, colleagues, friends, neighbours & all affected people in our community and surrounding areas. CJA Durham is fully aware that Canada is not exempt from systemic racism, neither is the Durham Region. We realize that this is our home, where we live, work and educate our children and we need to acknowledge the issue of systemic and institutionalized racism against Black people openly. This said, we decided that we are done with just listening, seeing and hearing about these issues but we will be comfortable starting uncomfortable, respectful, open, honest and healthy conversations about racism, addressing discriminatory practices, policies, beliefs and attitudes within ourselves and within the people in our community. We had a three-hour online meeting with a multi-cultural group of 15 people who proposed and supported the initiative to launch “The Listening Circle of Inclusion” which would serve as a platform and safe space where everyone could have healthy and educational conversations about racism and how we can tackle it as a disease in our community. Therefore, the purpose of the Listening Circle is to initiate ways where we can individually and collectively promote a positive change in our community while advocating for diversity, equity and inclusivity in our community, Canada and nationwide.
After weeks of strategic planning, our first event took place on Thursday the 11th of June with the theme “The Impact of Microaggressions” and “Concrete Displays of Advocacy”. We had invited every elected officials (at all levels of government) in the Durham Region as well as many community agencies, individual police officers, boards of trade, probation management, churches, several preeminent university professors, indigenous people, college professors and mediators, where everyone had been invited as a “Citizen” as a listening circle demands no government or political posturing. We ended up having over 60 acceptances as opposed to hosting a maximum of 10 people and a total of 110 registrations for the event. We knew we had to up our game and ensure the event was worthwhile and guess what? It was!
The event commenced at 6:30 pm, where Ms. Sue Sutcliffe, founder and owner of the host platform ‘WorldEventCentre’, addressed the audience with a brief introduction to the platform, while outlining some administrative details in regard to assistance and navigation needed on the platform. Shortly after at 6:35pm, CJA’s executive director, Ms. Audrey Isenor a distinguished mediator, and Ms. Renee Whittaker, who is also a professor at Durham College, gave a brief welcome note on behalf of CJA and introduced the themes of the event which were “Microaggression” and “Displays of Advocacy”. By 6:45, we welcomed Mr. Batsirai Chada, a singer and man of God at the Embassy church in Oshawa, Ontario, who offered some words of encouragement accompanied by a welcome prayer to kickstart the event. Mr. Chada included that the event was a much needed one to educate people in the society as since he moved to Oshawa in 2007, he didn’t regard the community as diverse. But today, Oshawa and the Durham region as a whole is becoming more like a home to people new to Canada, seizing the opportunity to create a diverse community. Additionally, Mr. Chada who is originally from Zimbabwe described his own experience of racism which took place when his mother had to spend the night in a jail cell because she was a Black woman while waiting for her connecting flight, while other passengers who were white, had been accommodated in a hotel.
By 6:50, Ms. Whittaker, introduced the topic of microaggressions and explained what it meant. According to a 2007 article by the ‘American Psychologist’, “racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward people of color”. Ms. Renee did not fail to include that micro aggressors are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial/ethnic minorities, and often get confused when they are called out for it. She described the different forms of microaggressions which includes, micro assault, microinsult and microinvalidation. Here’s a link to the article on Microaggressions, its different forms and examples https://www.visions-inc.org/blog/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life. After Ms. Whittaker’s speech, Ms. Isenor briefly talked about advocacy and outlined that one of the most important ways to be an advocate is to listen more and talk less when people of colour are explaining their experiences. Ms. Whittaker also included that Black people and people of colour are tasked with educating the public when others need to be more mindful of how they engage with multicultural communities, hence, the reason why there is a need to have healthy conversations on how to effectively and appropriately communicate with people of colour. Please see https://sojo.net/articles/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies for additional information.
By 7:00pm, Ms. Isenor introduced the table mode discussion where the audience could choose a table of their choice according to the theme of their interest. Each table had a maximum of 6 people, as well as a table mediator/moderator who represented CJA Durham in order to probe, prompt and support conversations. The main purpose of the Table Talk discussion is to provide an opportunity for sharing, listening and learning and not for the purpose of offering solutions or expertise. Therefore, CJA’s main goal was to make people feel welcomed and learn from listening. Note that all table discussions were private and were not recorded but only table members could conversate privately. During conversations, table members of microaggression concluded that forms of microaggressions usually comes from people who aren’t educated enough and therefore, the need for the white community to listen more and talk less.
Furthermore, they outlined that people tend to shy away from asking questions with the fear of saying the wrong thing but keep in mind that in saying the wrong thing, learning is originated. One of our community partners, a respected mediation coordinator in Peterborough concluded that youths of today have different access to resources and can do better than baby boomers in educating themselves about systemic racism and its different forms of oppression. She also included that a lot of history is left out in today’s educational system, hence, why people think Canada is better than the United States. Therefore, she suggests that there is a strong need for the youths of today to be more vocal while holding an expectation for learning and growth.
Mr. Steve Young, a member of the Board of Directors at CJA Durham, and an experienced Restorative Practitioner, thanked everyone for spending the evening with us. Over the upcoming weeks, CJA and other member organizations will offer discussions on White Fragility, Fears for Black Youth, Radical Self-Care, Treatment by Police and Working with Police, Educational Issues, Privilege, Prison Over-Representation, What Actions Can We Take?, and the Politics of Power. We hope the first Listening Circle experience was a great one and hope to see you all in the next series. Thank you.