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Young People at a Workshop

Boldly Speaking.


The past couple of weeks have been surreal. 

It’s taken me some time to wrap my head around it.  A lot of quiet reflection.  Realizing how fortunate I am to have my health, how privileged I am to be able to work safely from home.  Even in unbelievable uncertainty, I know I can count my blessings.  I send my love and thanks to all those essential workers and their families, who are giving so much of themselves during this time.

As we start to think about what a new normal might look like, I encourage us to take a moment to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned about ourselves.


There's a wisdom in my culture, Sankofa, which means "go back and get it".  The idea here is that to understand where you are going, you need to know where you've been.  Like the Adinkra symbol that represents it (see image), Sankofa asks us to look back into the past, taking lessons we’ve learned into the future. 

I believe that after everything we’ve been experiencing together, we are capable of being so much more inclusive than we ever imagined.  There’s still much work to do, but now that we’ve come so far, it would be a shame to go backward.


Looking Back

1.       Our Capacity for Community Is Incredibly High.  One of the first things that touched me was the urge to protect our most vulnerable.  Seeing supermarkets step up by offering early opening hours to seniors and those who are immunocompromised was a powerful model for how this can be done going forward.  Steps had been taken previously by grocers offering sensory-friendly shopping, so the blueprint was already there, but the rapid rollout – and how this dedicated time has been respected by others in the community – has shown us that our capacity is great.

Our sense of community is also getting tighter.  Social media may have obliterated the barriers, but the number of old school phone calls, show that people wanting to connect on a deeper level during this time of social distancing and self-isolation.  Still skeptical?  Check out the Youtube videos showing how entire neighbourhoods united to sing despite being #TogetherAlone.


2.       We Are Aware of Inequality.  We know that our elders and those who are immunocompromised are not the only ones who are vulnerable.  We saw how quickly cross-sector partnerships popped up to fill in the gaps for children and youth facing food insecurity who, if they were in school, would be accessing lunch programs.  We are pre-emptively problem-solving to address the needs of families – particularly of women and children – who are experiencing domestic violence.  We are mindful of how homeless populations are being affected and working to provide solutions.  We recognize that health inequities faced by racialized populations put them at greater risk.   


3.       We Are Capable of Being Responsive.  It took some time for certain companies in my city to respond to the crisis, but when they did, the response was generally rapid.  Suddenly where one might have initially seen resistance to working from home, they soon saw a push to set up remotely, with all the IT supports necessary.  Not only did work continue seamlessly, but colleagues became more accepting of their coworkers’ multiple roles as employees and as parents and/or caregivers.  For those who had previously faced barriers to employment, such as persons with disabilities, it is clear that quick and responsive accommodations are possible.


4.       We Seek To Share.  We’ve all been hit hard economically, and this can be particularly true for those of us who are self-employed.  Even as we struggle to stay afloat financially, I've been amazed by how many entrepreneurs have been willing to share their gifts online.  From offering free webinars, to live workout sessions, to online concerts, the services they've shared – at no cost at all to the consumer – demonstrate what it is to be included.  It's about feeling that you belong, and feeling that you are valued.  


Besides, who wouldn’t want to train with Venus and Serena, or learn Debbie Allen’s choreography on IG?


5.       We Strive to Leave No One Behind. In a time when financial crises could lead corporations into ethical quandaries, we've seen many great examples of organizations in private and public sectors, take the high road – one that flies past corporate social responsibility, and demonstrates what it looks like to help out a neighbour in need.  In my community, hydro rates have been lowered, and property taxes are being deferred so that those who have lost their income have time to recover.  Meanwhile, many corporations offering subscription or membership services are also placing holds on payments at their own expense.


Perhaps financial modelling has shown that cancelled membership or the pursuit of default payments will be costlier than forgiveness – but I like to think these organizations are simply modelling what it looks like to be part of the solution when people are already struggling.


6.      We Hold Organizations to Account.  As we started this difficult journey, many of us were witness to the ugly sides of power and privilege.  Companies with poor staff sick leave policies were exposed for their abusiveness, in favour of workers' rights to have safe work environments.  Other organizations resisted implementing recommendations from public health such as social distancing because of the impact on the bottom line and were consequently called out for putting staff and consumers' lives at risk.


While there are likely elements of self-interest in play, what this challenge has shown us that we have standards.  We expect people to be treated with dignity, and we are deeply empathetic and moved to act when they are not.  Our awareness of injustice in the workplace is heightened, and now is the time to call our leaders to rebuild the types of organizations that are truly inclusive and respectful to all.


Going Forward

Now that we’ve had a moment to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned about inclusion, let’s take a moment to consider five trends that might be lying ahead as we shift to a new normal.

1.       Greater openness to flexible and remote work, certainly for those juggling multiple roles.

2.       More mental health supports, especially for those of us who will be re-emerging after a period of self-isolation.

3.       An increased commitment to safe work, particularly those who are precariously employed and those on the frontlines of crises.

4.       A greater emphasis on meaningful solutions (and not just learning to build awareness)

5.       A stronger connection between inclusion and community.

We're still in the thick of it, so perhaps things will change.  I remain hopeful that sooner rather than later, we will come out on the other side, and begin to rebuild.  When we do, my wish is that we remember these lessons and take them with us into the future that lies ahead.

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