To the editor:
I was privileged to be part of a delegation that met with City Councilors recently to discuss racism in Thunder Bay. The Regional Multicultural Youth Council (RMYC) sits on the City’s Anti-Racism and Respect Advisory Committee to provide an inclusive voice and youth perspective on diversity.
Being a Middle Eastern Muslim young woman in high school, I am familiar with being stereotyped, teased and harassed because of who I am. I wear a hijab which represents my faith, gives me identity, comfort and security. Unfortunately, I have endured negative encounters for wearing my head-scarf. Ignorance and assumptions have led to hurtful comments such as: my parents force me put on the hijab, I hate non-Muslims, and so forth. Fortunately, through the RMYC I have met other young people with similar experiences, and we share positive stories about our backgrounds and growing up in our multicultural society. We talk about common Canadian values, our hopes and dreams for a brighter and better future for everyone. We respect each other as human beings and learn how to get along.
At the meeting, Councilors heard from past RMYC members who started a reception and orientation program to welcome First Nations students to the city, help them to meet new friends, stay in school and graduate. They trained peer leaders, and created role models who used positive influence to make a difference. They hosted forums to discuss issues of mutual interest and workshops to develop strategies to tackle issues together. The council engaged youths in schools, city neighbourhoods and First Nations reserves to make them part of the solution to their problems, and organized camping trips with the police to establish trust and improve relations with officers.
The RMYC did this with money from fundraising bingos and roving Monte Carlos which dried up after the Casino opened downtown. Funding criteria put in place by the city prevented small groups such as the youth council from accessing the limited grants available. A thriving and active youth group was forced to downsize and run short-term projects. We blame the Casino for taking away an easy source of revenue for our youth-led initiatives that involved children and youth in positive activities.
City Hall cannot tackle racism alone and more resources are needed to address deteriorating race relations that have put Thunder Bay on the map. If the City is serious, action-oriented grassroots groups with a proven track-record on anti-racism work should be recruited and their services purchased accordingly. Children and youth should be included to break the cycle of racial hatred, intolerance, prejudice and discrimination among future generations. The RMYC wants to be involved, but as a dependent population we need funding to restore our capacity to help.