THUNDER BAY - Women who have faced and overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges are speaking out in the hopes that their stories will inspire women in cities across Canada who continue to face hardships that still remain all too common.
“I want to show that I can help and I want to help and by one person showing me as some of these women did, that you can overcome and become a happier, healthier person,” said Jacquie Kennedy. “I want to be that example, to even just one person out there in the audience. That’s all that matters to me.”
Kennedy was one of four keynote speakers during The Uncommon Woman tour, which made a stop in Thunder Bay on Saturday. The focus of the tour is turning struggles into strength and the women shared stories of overcoming great hardships, from surviving cancer to losing a mother to a serial murderer.
Marlo Ellis, the founder of The Uncommon Woman, said the movement is all about providing a safe environment for women to share their stories free of judgement or rejection.
“There’s nothing worse than being told that your story isn’t believed or that it doesn’t matter,” she said. “If we have these conversations then we are starting to change the way, as a society, we deal with pain.”
The tour began in Toronto and will make stops in Calgary and Vancouver. On Friday, keynote speaker, Leah Parsons, shared her story about bullying and mental health after losing her daughter Rehtaeh Parsons, to suicide after being cyberbullied. Ellis said the timing is perfect for the stop in Thunder Bay because of issues in the city including racial tensions, alcohol and drug abuse, and isolation.
“What we are recognizing collectively as a culture is that when people step forward and start thinking and sharing their truth and sharing their stories, that they feel supported and they realize they are not alone and they are not isolated. It’s very therapeutic, but it’s also bringing wisdom to the community that these things are going on and we can start looking for solutions.”
“I know in Thunder Bay, we have a lot of racism,” said Crystal Davey. “A lot of the stories that are portrayed are negative stories. We need to see some positive stories and we need to show that there are people who are overcoming these obstacles and doing well in their lives.”
Davey, whose Indigenous name is Zongwe Binesikwe, meaning Sounding Thunderbird Woman, is from Thunder Bay and a member of Rocky Bay First Nation. As one of the keynote speakers, Davey spoke about her experiences losing her mother, who went missing in 1991 and is believed to be a victim of serial killer, Robert Pickton.
“I’m trying to show I’ve been able to overcome a lot of the disparities that First Nation people face and to break that cycle of disadvantage,” she said. “The message I am bringing today is that despite all of the issues that people have and it’s not just an Indigenous issue, we can all work together to build our community and help each other.”
Kennedy shared a similar message of how she overcame a difficult childhood that included an alcoholic and abusive father suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military.
She said her story is not unique, especially in a city like Thunder Bay, which is why she felt she needed to speak up and share her story.
“I feel that it’s really important that they see an example of an average everyday person who rose up and over and took a leap and decided to look within and heal and what can come of it,” she said.
After Kennedy had her own children, she realized the troubles she had growing up were manifesting in unhealthy and dangerous ways. But she overcame those challenges and is now a personal trainer and owner of Sweat Club Fitness Studio.
Kennedy said she wants other women to realize that they, too, can overcome anything and if they desire a better life, they can achieve it. This is especially important for women in Thunder Bay, Kennedy said, who have sometimes been left behind a national and global movement of standing up for equal and equitable treatment.
“It’s an uprising right now of women speaking out, but over the years, we’ve been a little bit behind where progress has been made in some of the bigger cities and women have been helped, where now, we’re finally having a voice and helping each other,” she said.