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The ROM attempts to dive back Into the Heart OF AFRICA… 25 years later

25 years ago neither Canada or the Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM) were thoughts on my mind. I was still in high school on a beautiful hot island in the Caribbean, weaving my way through teenage angst and crashing head first into first loves and hormonal changes. 25 years ago however, in the largest city in the Great White North (soon to be my home), and on the sidewalks of the Royal Ontario Museum trouble was afoot.

You see the ROM opened an exhibit called Into the Heart of Africa, nothing too exceptional about that really except that this particular exhibit would turn out to be a landmark exhibit for all the wrong reasons. One that speared its way into the heart of museum cultural curation and as I understand it, probably forever changed the perception of the Black [African] presence in  Canada or at the very least Toronto.

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The Into the Heart of Africa exhibit opened in November 1989 and by March 1990 protesters led by a group called the Coalition For the Truth about Africa (CFTA) were calling for its closure. Mostly due in part to what the group called the exhibit’s racist view and representation of Africa. To hear it told many from all walks of life and backgrounds brought friends and family to march in peaceful protests on the steps of the ROM asking for certain demands to be met. Most notably that the exhibit be shut down given its denigrating content, images, text and tone about the people and continent of Africa.

For their part the ROM contends (till today) that the Exhibit was not racists and the intent of Jeanne Cannizzo, the curator, was to denounce colonialism and criticize white Canada’s attitudes to Africa. To that end The ROM refused to shut down the exhibit. The police were eventually called in to deal with the ‘radical black’ protesters. Chaos ensued,  13 were arrested, 11 were charged (later to be referred to as The ROM 11) faced trial and some were jailed for various charges including disturbance of the peace. The exhibit eventually closed in August 1990 and subsequent showings at museums in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Ottawa and Albuquerque were all cancelled.

Some very deep wounds formed some 25 years ago and the trust between the ROM and some in the African Canadian community in Toronto, certainly for many who were a part of the CFTA and especially those who led protests had been broken. 25 years later, in a moment seemingly designed by fate herself the twain(s) were forced to meet, as the ROM’s centenary celebrations happens to fall in the same year as the 25th anniversary of  Into the Heart of Africa  and its resulting protests.

A project called Of AFRICA: Histories, Collections, Reflections was conceptualised by independent curators Dr. Julie Crooks and Dominique Fontaine who worked in tandem with ROM curator Dr. Sylvia Forni to bring it to fruition . The project seems an attempt to redress and /or address the concerns brought to the fore by the CFTA protests. A sorta kinda apology, sorta…kinda.

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In its  brochureOF AFRICA: Histories, Collections, Reflections is described as ‘a 3 year multi-disciplinary program. [It] is a commitment to provide a space for continued presence of African and diasporic themes, histories and artists within the ROM’s programming for the benefit of all Ontario audiences…OF AFRICA interrogates monolithic representations of Africa, collections and colonial histories by broadening the discussion of what constitutes Africa and African art….It encompasses Lectures, Live Performances, exhibits, workshops, film screenings, residences , educational programs and selected partnerships with other cultural institutions.’

OF Africa opened on Wednesday Oct 23rd, with a private reception that brought together former members of the CFTA, head honchos from the ROM administration and other invited guests. I was not there, however I am told it was a very powerful and impassioned gathering. A great read on the night with even better historical context and interviews can be found here.

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Binyavanga Wainaina Photo Credit: Jerry Riley

Thursday evening saw a keynote and Q & A  with the erudite Kenyan author, publisher and cultural worker Binyavanga Wainaina . His presentation titled ‘I am an Imaginer Riding Africa’s Glorious Terrible Hurricane‘ sought to elucidate the contradictions that define the Africa now rising. Wainaina read from some of his works including his introduction to Kujo Laing’s 1989  book Such Sweet Country, and from his own most recently published work One Day I’ll Write about this Place.

The Q & A led by Dan Yaw  was rather interesting and depending on who you spoke to, was either brilliant or frustrating. For me it was a bit of both as I felt that the interviewer may have been missing the mark of the intended focus of the interview, and as a result might have frustrated his interviewee into a sort of cat and mouse, talk around the topic but not about the topic type of discourse. One could argue however that for all intents and purposes the interview style was typical of what is expected at these ‘conversations with…’ events. Such that excerpts from Wainaina’s book were used as reference and focus points meant to lead into a deeper conversation about the current state of affairs in contemporary Africa. In part this style worked, for there were some sparkling moments where Binyavanga regaled the audience with vivid stories about the everyday goings-on on the streets of African cities. Examples included one about the complexities of the lives of those who fill the numerous ‘Churches’ that line the streets, and another about the maddening  intersections of African lives on Wattsapp. That being said,  I felt a more direct approach, with specific questions about the definition of, and what could emerge from ‘Africa’s Glorious Terrible Hurricane’ may have probably been a preferred and more suitable approach.

For certain I believe those of us in the audience caught a glimpse of the genius that is Binyavanga – named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world – he is more than passionate about the Continent and hasn’t the patience to mince words about Africa’s very real and present contradictions. I like that he is not one to be led. He is a consummate storyteller and so one would never get a straight answer to a specific question. Instead I felt that he challenged the audience (whether intentionally or not, I’m not sure)  to glean their own answers out of the brightly colored images painted for us by his multilayered stories about his own existence and that of the 1 billion living in today’s Africa.

Thursday’s keynote also formed part of the ROM 100 Speaks lecture series and was capped by a wine and cheese reception at the end. Turns out my night had only just begun, for when asked, I happily tagged along for drinks and dinner with the author and friends. Sure enough conversations about contemporary Africa continued in earnest and overflowed well into the early hours of Friday morning. Overall it was a beautiful evening out and very very eye opening evening of Africa!

A two day symposium on Friday and Saturday completed the Of Africa:Histories, Collections, Reflections event. I attended day 1 and a bit of day 2. My impressions of the ‘Learning from into the Heart Africa‘ panel discussion from day 1 will follow in a subsequent post.

P.s Check out the ROM on Friday nights for #FNLROM it’s a damn good party! Only happening till November 28th though so pick a Friday and check it out!

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Caught me looking at Africa Alive! #FNLROM

 

Till next time I am yours as always

A Traveling Black Chick!

LH

 

 

 

 

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LIVE!

This past weekend I attended a beautiful ‘send off’ for a young man who passed away in his prime. The party was beautifully bittersweet, in some moments I found myself tearing up as I admired the love and strength of his family. They were stunningly lovely and above all gracious to all of us, his guests, emboldening us to enjoy ourselves, to dance, to live out loud because that is the way he wanted it, how he requested it….

I learn over and over again that life is fleeting…never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that this tall, strong man would have passed so young. So by all means LIVE Authentically! LIVE Boldly! LIVE Freely! LIVE every moment! Whatever you do just LIVE!

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This short post was inspired by the above quote  which a beautiful soul posted on Facebook…she got it from author Paulo Coelho’s FB wall…don’t you just love the power of Social Media…

Till another bit of inspiration I am yours as always

A Traveling Black Chick

LH

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Thankful to be 38 and Feeling Great!

ContentmentThankful and feeling doubly blessed. 38 today and thrilled to be healthy, active and peacefully placed. Thankful in this moment for all that I am blessed with. Thankful for hands that are connected to heart that allows expression deep and true. Thankful for constant self discovery and love and growth. Thankful for strong, enduring, loving friendships that even after years we can stay up all night talking into the wee hours and early morning; sharing honestly, excitedly, hopefully. It is the best blessing EVER! Thank you so so much for this love.

Thankful for new friendships and fruitful connections that allow me to grow and expand. Non-contrived, non-agenda just organic growth and beauty. Thank You. Thankful for breath and finding peace and silence safely within the chaos. Thankful for life renewing hope and clear direction. Thank you for the possibility of new spaces and beginnings. It makes sense that the last pages of this journal are written in hope and thanksgiving for another year of life, of blessings and abundance. of joy and fulfillment, of looking forward in fantastic anticipation and knowing. I am so truly and amazingly blessed to be anchored in love.

In this moment I am thankful. Sometimes these moments are scary because I wonder if they are too much; if they are an extreme high leading to an extreme low and I am happy to report that No in reality it is a constant place of love and gratitude that sustains even through the low moments, the unknowing moments. Thankful for that place deep within that knows all is well in my world. That the answers are within and it is ok to shut out the noise in order to receive them. Thank you for strong limbs and strong muscle memory. Thank you for  courage and determination, trust and knowing that I will get there. That daily I am on the path and living my dreams. That I will do what it takes to make them happen. That they are mine and I can and will make them happen. That the road will be windy and odd and scary and challenging but in my heart I know thy will, my will be done.

Ase.

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Digging Deeper into VAW with Tropicana Community Services

Simple & Clear

Simple & Clear

Although we have the Canadian and World Stats on Violence Against Women…I felt it was important to dig a little deeper to find out more about the issue in the Communities the #NoMeansStop Journey to Kilimanjaro is meant to serve. I recently met with the phenomenal team of Tropicana Community Organizations VAW Services who answered some of my questions regarding their work…

1.      Which Communities do you serve?

The Culturally Appropriate Counseling program of Tropicana Community Services provides services to youth and their families, particularly from the Black/Caribbean communities.  A significant portion of work is with women and children impacted by domestic violence.

2.      The Canadian Women’s Foundation states on its site that 1 in 2 women in Canada have faced some sort of sexual or physical violence since the age of 16. 

a.      How true is this statistic in the communities you serve?

This statistic seems to be an accurate depiction of the community which we serve; however, front line staff note that this might be conservative given the feedback of the community.

b.      Is Violence against Women a major concern in the communities you serve?

As workers in the VAW sector, this issue is a major concern.  Workers see women and children negatively impacted and strive to educate them about the issue while securing necessary resources.  At the same time however, workers are unsure about the extent to which it is a priority as, in many ways, the abuse of women and children is seemingly tolerated by ineffective laws and insufficient funding for preventative services.

3.      What are some of the most common instances of abuse and violence that appear in the communities you serve? (Verbal, Physical, Sexual etc.)

Amongst the youth community which TCS serves, verbal abuse seems to be the most predominant but eventually this verbal abuse, translates itself into emotional and mental abuse. Amongst women in the community, physical abuse is the most common instance of abuse and sexual is the least reported.  Emotional and financial abuse is also existent within the community, but often time people do not recognize this as a form of abuse.

4.      On average what is the age group of the clients you serve?

On average, amongst various counselors, the age group of clients served ranges from as young as 15 years of age to about 45 years of age.

5.      In most cases who are the perpetrators of the abuse?

Often times, the most common perpetrators of abuse are the parents, especially the mother of a client – but at the same time, partners of females also are a significant perpetrator.

a.      How prevalent is intimate partner abuse?

Intimate partner abuse is very prevalent amongst the community, with contributing factors like language barriers, economic status, educational achievement, social class, access to/lack of resources and knowledge – especially for immigrants.

b.      Most abusive relationships do not begin that way. What are some early signs Women and Girls Should be aware of in their relationships to determine if they are in a potentially abusive situation?

Some early sign that women and girls should be aware of in their relationships to determine if they are in a potentially abusive situation include:   inexplicable changes in a person’s behavior (moody, withdrawal, anger), controlling behaviour (jealousy, making decisions for her), isolation (keeping her away from friends and/or family, monitoring of a person’s phone, calling her 24/7 and always wanting to know her whereabouts).

6.      From what you have seen how does this violence impact our communities, families, society?

This violence impacts our communities, families and society because it breaks up families and relationships. When seemingly condoned, it erroneously demonstrates that this behaviour is acceptable.  It stifles the victims’ ability to reach their fullest potential.  At the same time, it puts a strain on the current resources available within our community for prevention services.

7.      What are some reasons why women stay in situations of abuse?

Some reasons why women stay in situations of abuse include financial/economic factors as they may not have any other means of support.  They may stay for the children’s sake, eroded self-esteem giving them a feeling like they deserve no better or fear of what people might say about them (cultural shame and stigmas) and perhaps times when the abuser demonstrates care and affection which lead women to minimize the occurrences of abuse.

a.      What advice would you give someone who may be facing abuse?

Awareness and education about abuse is vital as well as emotional support, safety planning and connections to community resources. Education should not be limited to females but should also include males in terms of their perception of females, gender relationships/ roles and privileges to name a few.

8.      Why do you feel Violence against Women continues in the communities you serve?

Violence against women continues in the communities served by TCS because it is condoned on many levels. There is also silence about what abuse actually is, leaving some people with the impression that certain things are not abuse and is normal. Depending on a person’s family of origin and/or religion abuse may be normalized. Attitudes regarding child rearing, discipline and physical punishment also create ideas around the morality of abuse. Media contributes to influence what is considered to be abusive while the judicial system and government are not doing enough to sanction perpetrators of abuse.

a.      What strategies do you feel can be put in place to help stop it?

Strategies that can be put in place to help stop violence includes starting a conversation about abuse and keeping it going, similar to the campaign Bell started around mental health. The education and resources surrounding this topic is minimal so it is important to begin getting everyone involved.  Encourage the mind-set that abuse must not be tolerated.

b.      How can we empower boys and young men to help stop Violence against Women?

Empowerment for boys and young men to help stop violence against women can start with teaching males to begin discussing and expressing feelings rather than internalizing them.  Educate males about the importance of respect and start the path to eliminating gender roles, stereotypes and love.  Model positive behaviours to boys and girls to demonstrate that healthy relationships cane exist in all aspects of society.

9.      What type of assistance does Tropicana’s VAW Services provide to potential clients?

Tropicana’s VAW services provides potential clients with safety and transitional planning, counselling, education, advocacy and referrals to priority housing

10.  How does someone find Tropicana Community Services if they require assistance?

If someone is interested in finding Tropicana Community Services, they are able to do so by calling 211 for the directory of community and social services.  TCS is also noted in the Black/Caribbean newspapers.   I am thankful to the following women who took time out of their very busy schedules to spend some time with me to dig deeper into Violence against Women in the Tropicana Services Community..

I’d like to send out a BIG THANK YOU to the ladies of VAW Team at Tropicana Community Services for spending some time with me and answering my questions. Unfortunately I took a photo of these remarkable women only to get home and realize that due to an overloaded memory the pic did not come out. Needless to say they were passionate and compassionate power women

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Journey to Kilimanjaro- Conversations on Consent- Young Men Talking

The first Conversations On Consent with the young men of Scarborough Youth Center’s Man Up Group was scheduled for the Monday just before Christmas Wednesday. Given that Toronto was reeling from the effects of a brutal ice-storm there was uncertainty as to whether this talk would actually happen. I placed a phone call beforehand to the Man Up Group Facilitator Richard to check-in. Initially he was unsure if we should go ahead but then expressed a definite desire to have the talk with his group regardless of whether it was today or in the new year. After some further conversation and sharing about how important he felt this topic was we decided to push ahead and have the scheduled session with a promise for more in the new year.

When I arrived at the Scarborough Youth Center there were only about 3 young men hanging around and Richard explained when I got there that he thought there would have been more young men by this time but he was concerned that we may not get much of a turn out because of the holidays. For my part it did not matter I was prepared to talk to the 3 young men who were already there. Thankfully though more came trickling in and we were a healthy group enough to start the conversation.

20131223_201554 Like with the ladies I started the conversation speaking to the young men about my journey to Kilimanjaro. I told them about what happened to my friend’s daughter and why I wanted to have this conversation with them about Sexual Consent. They took in the information and after asking for their consent to publish what we spoke about with no names attached and confirm that it would be ok to take pics with them we got started.

My first question, ‘what is consent?’ always general, was met with a straightforward answer -‘to give permission’-. That was easy enough so I dove right in and followed up with what is sexual consent. There were some smiles and reaction to this one and then I got the roundabout answer that Sexual Consent has to do with giving permission to have sex. I asked them to go a little deeper to talk about what consent actually looks like, so as to get clear, and they shared that the eyes are a powerful tool in giving consent and as well as paying attention to how someone is reacting in the situation to ensure that they are ok with it because consent is an ongoing conversation.

20131223_201547Some very interesting moments showed up in my discussion with the young men. We explored the concept of ‘passionate’ relationships. One of the young men suggested that based on what he had seen in films and on TV, relationships where couples get very angry even to the point of  aggression or hitting, could mean that their love is very ‘passionate’ or strong because most times in those ‘tv’ scenarios they end up making love in the end.  I was happy to note that this opened up a very lively conversation, with a number of the young men suggesting that anytime you have to get violent or so angry in the relationship it can’t be good. Many suggested that instead of a passionate love-making scene at the end as is suggested in the movies, situations like this could lead to much more deadly circumstances.  This was a key moment for me as though I know the media’s influence I was smacked in the face with how powerful it truly is as I listened and watched this young man defend this concept – of  ‘passionate’ relationships- very convincingly until the group and myself were eventually able to sway him with reasoned discussion.

Interestingly many of the young men also felt strongly that there is quite a bit of violence against men that is not talked about. The young men felt that in some cases many girls who are their contemporaries were more violent than their male counterparts. In that moment I will admit to feeling a bit of panic as I wanted to honor their position but at the same time not deflect attention away from the high occurring incidences of Violence against young women and Intimate Partner Violence that disproportionately affects females at a much higher rate. I challenged one of the young men to find me the stats that also support this claim,  and I thoroughly loved how he got out his phone and whipped up an article from the web complete with stats that proved violence against men is a growing concern. With this unexpected twist we spent some time exploring violence against men.

20131223_201914They shared stories of lived experiences in which friends and even themselves sometimes faced difficult scenarios of bullying at the hands of girls/ girlfriends and sometimes in the home. We spent some time here fielding suggestions of positive ways for young men to deal with these situations. Here I was really moved by the support system that the young men provided for each other. Some of the ideas that came across were  anonymously speaking to someone in authority, to deal with bullies. Finding a supportive friend with whom they can share and in extreme situations seeking help from a guidance counsellor, anonymous Phone Help Lines and lastly the police. For the young men it was important to not come across as looking weak and so anonymously seeking help and support resonated as a stronger strategy.

We then went on to explore strategies to deal with challenges that may come up in intimate situations, where they may find themselves getting angry or having to deal to uncomfortable feelings of rejection. Walking away from the situation rang out as the best strategy. Some suggested locking themselves in a room if needed but most importantly to get away from the situation. In a scenario where a young woman says no in the middle of  an intimate experience- again here the boys stressed on walking away especially when it’s hardest to do so, just get out of the situation as quickly as possible. At clubs or dances where they want t to dance with a girl – the best ways to approach and what to do when the girl says NO is simple just STOP.

20131223_200707We talked about finding healthy ways to release negative energy like getting involved in martial arts or other healthy physical activity. The influence of friendships and how supporting each other with positive feedback and right information was important. We spoke about  them becoming conscious and aware of their own personal triggers, especially in relationships. Getting to know themselves well enough to understand what types of scenarios and situations may cause them to get upset or put them in harm’s way; and to determine in advance how to deal with them. In the end I stressed the importance of having in mind a vision for their lives and in every moment determining whether a particular action or decision gets them closer or further from that vision.

I thoroughly enjoyed and was overwhelmed by the sensitivity and wisdom coming from this group of young men, Their honesty and willingness to be open about these issues was a truly pleasant surprise. I was nervous going in as I did not know what to expect and unsure of my approach; however things turned out very well and in the moment of conversations and beyond I felt connected with them.  They asked questions, challenged ideas, dug deep and supported each other. The balanced view from the young men is also very much reflected in the calm and passionate leader of the group Richard. So I must give special Shout OUTS to Richard for being a wonderful guide and mentor for these young men!

Thank you again to Tropicana Community Services for allowing me to reach out to these brilliant young men. I give you KUDOS for providing a space like the Scarborough Youth Center and the Man UP Group to help young men in our community become their best selves!

Raising It Up!

I am officially 6.5 weeks away from the Summit! so I clearly need to ramp my fundraising efforts right the way up! Support the NO MEANS STOP! Campaign. We are raising funds to Support Tropicana Community Services Violence Against Women Programs and to build programs that are specifically designed to educate and empower Boys & Young Men around issues of Sexual Consent.

Let's Empower Our Young Men!

Together We Can Empower Our Young Men!

If you’d like to support online don’t hesitate to click here —> GO FUND ME Widget or scroll up to the right of the page  and hit the Go Fund Me Button there.  You can also  send me a note in the comments below if you’d prefer donate or lend your support in another way! I am happy to come to your Social Gathering, Business group, school or event to talk about this Journey! Share the Image Below with a link to this blog so others can learn more about this journey!

I have attached the Official Press Release —> Kilimanjaro Climb to Raise Awareness PR Jan2014, in case you require some easy background to Share with your Network!

Thank you for reading and Thank you for your Support! Together we CAN be the Change we want to see in this world!

Yours As Always

A Traveling Black Chick!

LH

P.S. This one was long in coming I know…so I apologize for the delay!

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Conversations on Consent- Ladies on Assault

HAPPY HAPPY NEW YEAR Fellow Travellers and Life Livers!!! It’s been a while since I have written. You are still owed a report on my first Conversations on Consent with the Young Men…it is coming, for some reason I am finding it hard to just spit that one out.

I realize that my need to tell every part of the story can sometimes get in the way of just getting the story told. So I am working on an easier format for myself that allows me to just get things posted and out quicker.

That being said…yesterday I had the 1st Conversations on Consent for 2014 and the 2nd one with the Sister to Sister young ladies of Tropicana Community’s Scarborough Youth Center. My second topic on the Conversations in Consent is Assault. As the universe would have it a powerfully moving documentary called the Invisible War, played on PBS the night before and I happened to catch it. It is a heart-wrenching account of stories of Women in the US Military who have faced all KINDS of Sexual Assault while serving in what is supposed to be the most powerful army in the world. What turned out to be worse for me watching this was the complete failing of the US Military Organization where this issue is concerned. A trailer for the doc is below….It’s a MUST WATCH!

I spent some time speaking to the young women about this documentary and it turned out to be the perfect lead as we walked into the dark and destructive world of assault. As usual we started with general definitions and then went specifically into Sexual Assault definitions. I tend to leave the conversations as unscripted as possible so we get to dive deep and wide into our topic. This turns out to be effective as what I learned from these conversations is how much talks like this are important for creating clarity.

The young ladies shared lived experiences, some of which they were unclear as to whether they should be defined as assault or violations. In most of the cases it turned out they were being at the very least harassed  and even threatened,  so being able to provide them with an understanding of what is defined as assault and what they can do about it proved valuable.

In addition they raised deeper questions around why Women are treated differently which allowed us to explore concepts as big as patriarchy and gender power politics in our own and other cultures and institutions. You can imagine that the time is never enough to truly dig deep enough into these complicated topics.

I therefore tried to keep them focused on the power that lies within their own person. The ability to SPEAK up loudly and firmly to resist any suggestion of violation or assault. The fact that they should expect when they Say NO it should be firmly and clearly stated so that STOP is the only meaning understood. Also The power that comes from standing up and supporting each other when they see others being violated and/ or assaulted.

The importance of safe action i.e gathering as much information as possible and taking it to authority as opposed to trying to confront the situation solely on their own. Using technology to aid them where possible to capture images or video of violations to strengthen their positions and use as evidence when or if required.

Syrcme[1]Before we knew it my time with the ladies was up and we had to barrel out of the room to make way for the Man Up Group who meet right after. Hence the lack of photo’s from yesterday’s session. But here is one of me and one of the most active participants in our discussions!

Every time I meet with my young participants I am empowered and emboldened in this quest to raise awareness and to push harder to accomplish this goal.

I want to always thank Tropicana Community Services specifically the staff at the Scarborough Youth Resource Center for the opportunity to converse with these amazing young people!

Raising It Up!

I am officially 6.5 weeks away from the Summit! so I clearly need to ramp my fundraising efforts right the way up! Support the NO MEANS STOP! Campaign. We are raising funds to Support Tropicana Community Services Violence Against Women Programs and to build programs that are specifically designed to educate and empower Boys & Young Men around issues of Consent.

Major Thanks to My Caribbean Posse for Putting their Dollars up for NO MEANS STOP!

Major Thanks to My Caribbean Posse for Putting their Dollars up for NO MEANS STOP!

If you’d like to support online don’t hesitate to hit click here —> GO FUND ME Widget or scroll up to the right of the page  and hit the Go Fund Me Button there.  You can also  send me a note in the comments below if you’d prefer donate or lend your support in another way! I am happy to come to your Social Gathering, Business group or event to talk about this Journey! Share the Image Below.

I have attached the Official Press Release —> Kilimanjaro Climb to Raise Awareness PR Jan2014, in case you require some easy background to Share with your Network!

Simple & Clear

Simple & Clear

Help Get Me to The TOP! Together we CAN be the Change we all want to see in this world!

As Always I am yours

A Traveling Black Chick!

LH

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Journey to Kilimanjaro- Conversations on Consent- Ladies Speak

SyrcA little nervous, feeling not as prepared as I wanted to be but it had to be done, so I got on the eastbound train and headed to the Scarborough Youth Resource Center to have my first Conversations on Consent with the young ladies of the Sister to Sister Women’s Group. When first asked to speak to the young women I knew immediately that for me it was more important to hear their thoughts on the topic at least initially instead of bombarding them with stats and how things should be. I want to walk with them where they are and discover with them uncensored how they truly feel about issues around consent. The Young ladies of the Sister to Sister Group were thankfully a balanced bunch so none too shy but not overly boisterous in a manner that would take over the conversation.  I had met most of them before on a prior occasion (a talk on Career Paths) so this made walking into the room and breaking the ice a little easier. After my introduction by contributor to this blog and Program Facilitator Kay-Ann Ward we were off to the races.

I initially had prepared the presentation as a series of questions/information spanning the whole spectrum along the journey from consent to violence against women. However thankfully on my train ride to the center I realised that in order to have a more meaningful conversation I should tackle the topic in smaller bits and bites and use the information gleaned from each conversation to inform future discussions.

To start I prefaced the conversation with a short blurb about my decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro -cue eyes popping out of sockets accompanied by a chorus of “Really?!!!” -gonna have to get used to this reaction, lolol. Then I went on to share with  them a little bit about why I was climbing and the story of my young relation who got violated while walking down the street. This allowed for a somewhat natural segue into a deeper discussion about their thoughts on consent.

My first question was general- What is Consent? As in all groups thankfully there is always at least one person who will always eagerly put up their hands to answer questions. In her answer this young woman gave the example of giving consent within the context of an agreement or legal document- as in ‘by signing this document I give consent or agree to abc or d’. The room agreed so I followed this question immediately with ‘so what do we think is Sexual Consent?” There were no other takers yet so I was thankful again for our eager beaver who correctly expounded on consent within intimate relationships and interactions.

We explored the various ways in which we give sexual consent to which the young ladies offered verbal communication as the main way. I challenged them to dig a little further for additional ways that we give consent by thinking about real life or even movie scenarios. Upon further exploration we determined that the eyes are a pretty powerful tool along other types of body language cues like leaning in and a relaxed and open facial and body expressions.

My next question centered around the age of consent. There were various answers to that question ranging in answers from 12 to 19. That the age of consent was 16 was something of a surprise to some but relatively accepted by most. The question of age opened up the floor for a discourse on “consent’ in cultural context, with one of the young ladies asking about cultures where girls as young as 12 and 13 were being forced into marriage.   Her question allowed us to spend some time on how consent and a girl’s right to her body is a particular human rights issue that is being tackled in other parts of the world. We spoke about the difficulty and opposition that those working towards the change face given that this behaviour is strongly a part of their cultural traditions.  In writing this post I now see how our discussions could have gone even further.

The Young Ladies working through discussions on Healthy Relationships...

The Young Ladies working through discussions on Healthy Relationships…

We then moved on to questions of actioning Consent. How do girls deal with issues of consent in intimate relationships and what challenges do they face in trying to do so. I was happy to note that all the young women felt very strongly they had a right to say NO at any stage of an intimate encounter.  Their questions came up around dealing with objections that may arise like “if you love me you would do it” or “how do you say no and not risk losing the relationship”. Some powerful answers to these questions came from the young women themselves; with one stating “you just keep saying NO” and another stating that the partner should be told  “if you loved me then you would STOP when I say NO”.  I thought that was a brilliant response and gave me a wonderful opportunity to share the campaign slogan NO Means STOP. I was able to explain that the action word STOP is important as it provides a clear instruction to a partner on what should happen when we say NO.

I asked if they thought that any partner should be or is generally more dominant in a relationship. The answers here varied with one stating that power should be equally shared while others thought it depended on the personalities in the relationship. Interestingly there was a thought that power had less to do with gender and more to do with personality so in effect a woman could also be the dominant figure in a relationship. Interestingly enough there was also some cultural discussions here as well, where it was suggested that men from some cultures felt it was their right to be dominant in relationships. Here I feel that I missed an opportunity to spend some time talking about the appalling statistics that show abuse and sexual violence of women is usually inflicted most notably by intimate partners. Something I will definitely explore in upcoming conversations.

We spent a little time on sexual consent within the context of families. It was easily agreed that there is no time that a girl should have to give consent within a family context and any situation like this falls squarely under Sexual Abuse and is against the law. This opened up discussions about how to be support systems for each other and paying attention to the signs of abuse. The young ladies were right on in identifying changes in behaviour (i.e acting out or extreme withdrawal) as a strong sign that something could be wrong.  An important question about how to offer support especially if this person is not a close friend came up. I suggested that the young women could offer assistance either by reaching out directly with a non-judgemental question or speaking to a school counsellor or advisor in confidence if they believe that something could be wrong.

I had exactly one hour with these beautiful and smart young women and I feel it was a valuable one. My hour was followed immediately by another presenter from a local organization called Black CAP a remarkable organization whose work centers reducing HIV/AIDS in Toronto’s Black, African and Caribbean communities and enhance the quality of life of Black people living with or aff­ected by HIV/AIDS. Mary’s session was centered around the same topics but dug a little deeper into the context of Healthy Relationships. Where in my conversation the ladies and I sat down in a circle and chatted; Mary did an excellent job of getting the  young ladies moving about and exploring further their thoughts and ideas on how particular scenarios and generally held opinions should play out in healthy relationships! I learned a lot from her session with the ladies!

All in all I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my first Conversations on Consent. It turned out not to be as scary as I thought and I was blessed to have a receptive and open group of young ladies to learn from and discuss this important topic with. I am thankful to Kay-Ann Ward for allowing me access to the young ladies in Sister to Sister and to Cameal, Manager of the SYRC for immediately supporting this project. Major thanks also goes out to Tropicana Community Services the charitable organization who has officially come on board to endorse the climb and whose programs will benefit from funds raised by the NO Means STOP Campaign.

Fantastic Group of Ladies

Fantastic Group of Ladies

My next Conversations on Consent will happen next week with the young men of the Scarborough Youth Center’s Man Up Young Men’s Group, definitely looking forward to the dynamics of that conversation! The Conversations on Consent forms part of my Journey to Kilimanjaro to help Raise Awareness about Sexual Consent and Violence Against Women.

I am excited about how this journey continues to grow. I am working towards increasing the content around this topic by speaking to many more on the frontline of this issue so stay tuned.

Till then I am yours always

A Traveling Black Chick…

LH

Simple & Clear

Simple & Clear

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