Twenty-five Indigenous and racialized youth had an audience with the mayor and councillors so elected officials could hear directly from them on how Calgary could be an anti-racist city.
It was part of the United Against Racism program, done in conjunction with Calgary’s Anti-Racism action committee. It brought the 25 youth, aged 14 to 25, together at Calgary city council chambers where they shared their ideas.
Each group of five came forward and had the chance to tell Mayor Jyoti Gondek their idea to make Calgary a more race-friendly city.
Linda Kongnetiman, lead of the City of Calgary’s anti-racism program, said it’s important to hear youth voices.
“One of the things that I’ve seen is that lived experiences cannot be told by someone else,” she said.
“If we had taken the youth stories and their experiences and brought them forward it wouldn’t have the impact that it had today.”
Students brought up a range of area that need improvement. It included the education system (staff diversity, textbooks), the unconscious bias of people, better conversations, changing the names of institutions named after racist individuals, social media, and the collection of race-based data. There were more.
Sonia Aujla-Bhullar with the Anti-Racism Action Committee said young people are critical to moving conversations on anti-racism forward.
“The youth in our city are integral to how we not only understand anti-racism, but really make action towards it,” she said.
“A lot of their stories echo what we have heard and what we know. But there’s also so much hope in the room behind us with what they see as being essential to moving towards an anti-racist city.”
Face-to-face is important for understanding: Mayor
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said this was an opportunity to build relationships with Calgary’s youth.
“I think anytime you can actually have a conversation with someone and look them in the eye and begin to understand how difficult it is to share some of those stories, and how much courage it takes for a group of students to come forward and ask for more,” she said.
“And to ask for accountability.”
The mayor said it was telling that students wanted changes to the education system, including the curriculum. They wanted it to be reflective of their experiences.
“When you hear it straight from the source that things need to change in their schools in their classrooms, then we have to act,” the mayor said.
“And as I mentioned to them, I can’t change the education system – that’s outside of my jurisdiction. However, we can be allies and advocates to make sure they get what they need.”
Next Monday (March 21) is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.