Bringing Stories of Indigenous and Refugee Youth to B.C. Classrooms

This story was written for Vancouver Foundation.

Indigenous, migrant, and refugee youth in B.C. have been displaced not only from their geographic homelands, but also from their ancestral, cultural, and spiritual roots.

Their schoolmates and teachers often have little or no understanding of what it’s like to be forcibly uprooted from everything you know, and how that pain continues to be felt for generations.

Young people with a personal or family history of displacement can struggle to feel a sense of dignity and self-worth, as school curriculum mostly overlooks their realities.

DisPLACEment is a media arts program that brings together Indigenous and newcomer youth to create short videos that explore the causes and consequences of displacement and resettlement. The program aims to dispel myths and challenge systematic racism. 

It is designed to spark dialogue, increase awareness, and infuse the education system with thought-provoking content that illuminates the realities of these populations.

Designed for classroom use, the videos will be packaged with lesson plans and activities. In addition to peer facilitated workshops delivered in the Vancouver area, the materials will be available online by donation for teachers, support workers and community groups.

Not only do youth get to tell their personal stories, they also build a roster of hard and soft skills including facilitation, critical thinking, self-advocacy, scriptwriting, interviewing, filming and post-production.

In the fall of 2017, the program kicked off with 21 youth participants. They envisioned and created a total of eight videos with the mentorship of local filmmakers during a 12-day media production event.

The DisPLACEment videos were premiered to an audience of 200 people at Yáynewas Chet: In Solidarity, an event hosted by Fresh Voices in downtown Vancouver in December 2017. 

So far, the DisPLACEment videos have been viewed by more than 600 people at various workshops and events.

They were seen by a group of emerging newcomer poets at a spoken-word retreat held by One Mic Educators near Toronto. Inspired by the visions and voices of their peers, the videos prompted hours of animated conversation and the creation of poems.

It is anticipated that 200 educators will use them in the 2018/2019 school year, delivering the content to approximately 4,000 people.

A Vancouver teacher, Ciera DeSilva, has already developed a presentation featuring the videos, called Decolonizing Traditionally British Curriculum to Empower Indigenous and Immigrant Students in B.C., which she presented to 60 educators from independent schools.

The DisPLACEment program is offered by Access to Media Education Society (AMES), an organization that nurtures the next generation of creative change-makers. AMES helps marginalized youth use media arts to create personal and social change.

The organization has developed more than 40 community-based media programs for youth that have faced various forms of oppression. Its programs have reached more than 70,000 students and educators across B.C.

Is Your Story Working? Take the Assessment

Photo from Flickr by Virtual Eyesee

Photo from Flickr by Virtual Eyesee

All too often people throw some language together to describe their organization. Then they build a website and call it a day.

How's that language workin' for ya?

Your brand story is more than just words on a page. It's more than a collection of thoughts you want to convey.

To really work some magic, your story needs to be told in the simplest, snappiest, most compelling way possible. Most crucially, it needs to be told from the perspective of your audience.

Let me pose 5 questions. Be brutally honest with yourself.

1) Are your execs singing from the same song sheet? (Or do people get a different story depending who they talk to?)

2) Does your website story clearly, boldly differentiate you from others in the market?

3) Can you verbalize (right now, without thinking) the most crucial thing every potential donor, client or customer needs to know? Bonus point if you believe your entire exec team would agree with you.

4) At networking events, are people intrigued when you tell them what you do?

5) With your previous responses in mind, are you supremely confident your story is exciting to people outside your organization?

If you answered 'no' to any of these questions, it's probably time to take a new crack at your brand story.

Rediscovering Humanity

Here's an article I wrote about the most exciting session I attended at the Dalai Lama Center's Heart-Mind conference. The speaker was Linda Lantieri, an expert in mindfulness for kids and a woman on a mission to revolutionize the education system.

The full article is below. It was originally published here


Linda Lantieri

Holy smokes, Linda Lantieri is a ball of fire. Hearing her speak made me want to back my bags and move to New York to support her work.

Among her many riveting tales, an anecdote about 1992 stood out for me. 1992 was the year of the first U.S. school shooting - the first time a student shot and killed another kid. 

It happened in New York, Linda’s hometown, and she immediately received a call asking for her help on-site to support the kids and teachers. When that call arrived, she was shocked not only to learn about the shooting, but also to discover it had happened at her alma mater.

The year rings in my head: 1992.

In the grand scheme of things, 1992 was a millisecond ago. How did we go from having no school shootings to several school massacres in just over 20 years? What happened in those 20 years that changed schools so drastically?

From the perspective of mindfulness in daily life (or lack thereof) a lot changed in those 20 years. The mid-nineties marked the explosion of real-time news coverage, kick-started by CNN’s relentless coverage of Nicole Simpson’s murder and OJ Simpson’s trial. 

We used to be a society that read a paper once a day and maybe caught the nightly news. Quickly we became a society where news was constant and urgent – information being hurled at us moment by moment, until we shut off the TV.

Then the Internet happened. And by happened, I mean exploded into our lives and minds like an atom bomb. The ‘immediacy’ of TV now seemed laughable. We no longer needed to rely on journalists for information – we could check Google, Facebook or Twitter. We could consult a gazillion blogs. A hungry or bored mind could spend hours and hours a day consuming content.

Add to this the full blossoming of video games as immersive and intensive experiences, stimulating young minds in a totally new way.

I’m definitely not attempting to draw a causal relationship between this media revolution and the emergence of fatal violence in schools. I’m simply saying, a lot has happened. People have busier minds, including kids. And it seems to me that busy minds create stressed people who may be less capable of dealing with some of the raw stuff life throws at us.

We’re making big strides in giving kids tools to cope with all of the new stimuli that are hitting them, but those strides haven’t kept pace with the speed of media.

Mindfulness may not be a solution to ending school violence, but it can likely help. Kids that have tools for coping with media stimuli, emotions and interpersonal conflict are more prepared to cope with life.

They’re more likely to see the humanity in others by discovering it in themselves. And at the very least, that’s a great start.


Refresh Your Brain

I had the huge honour of attending the Dalai Lama Center's Heart-Mind conference and I wrote two articles for their blog about my experience.

Below is a piece I wrote in response to a presentation by the renown Dr. Cliff Saron, an expert on how mindfulness affects the brain. It was originally published here.


Dr. Cliff Saron

In a world where we are bombarded with texts, tweets and up-to-the-nanosecond news, why aren’t we totally alarmed at our decreasing ability and opportunity to focus peacefully on one thing at a time?

All of this incessant communication and stimuli is tricking us into thinking we’re highly productive. But here’s what I think. Our minds are busy, yes. But productive? Not nearly as much as we think.

Dr. Clifford Saron’s presentation cited research that shows people perform better at tasks after interacting with nature. Quieting the mind refreshes the brain. Not a shocker really, but what do we do about it? How do we make sure kids (and teachers, parents – and all adults) can regularly hit the refresh button on their brains?

I’ve been practicing meditation daily for several years, and I’m mid-way through an intensive two-year meditation teachers’ program in Vancouver. I’m a focus group of one, and I certainly don’t claim that my views are scientifically proven. But I’ll share my experience.

When it comes to refreshing the brain, meditation is like nature (Clifford’s research supports this).

You know that calm, still state that you experience when you really settle into a view of vast, open ocean? Or that feeling of oneness and openness that you get standing on top of a mountain peak or staring up at a rural, starlit sky? Yeah, meditation’s like that.

Not all the time, mind you. Sometimes it’s simply an exercise in letting the frantic mind simmer down. But that’s ok too because it still refreshes the brain, even when you don’t think it’s happening.

Frequently saying ‘no’ to stimuli and turning inward brings clarity. Ease. A bigger perspective.

I’ve been a news junkie, an iPhone addict, a social media strategist and a PR maven. I know a busy brain. It’s my hope that we create a world where the next set of adults at the helm have calm, clear, compassionate minds. I think we’ll all be better for it.