This past Friday at Meet Me @ the Bell Tower the topic was FAMILY. We wanted to talk about how family can help prevent other forms of violence, provide a solid foundation of positivity for people to lean on and we also wanted to celebrate the family we created over the past 2+ years at MM@BT. But leading a discussion on what we as a group of helpers can do in the form of ACTION was a daunting (and triggering) task. Stories of challenges within families, and stories of systemic challenges in CFS, education and justice revealed to those in attendance that the task we were discussing was likely much larger than any of us had imagined. We began our discussion inside the Indigenous Family Centre shortly after 6pm with about twenty individuals in attendance. But something was different.
As I welcomed people to the group and introduced the theme of family I noticed that the faces were not entirely familiar. I had met a brave and inspiring family earlier in the week, and they had brought their entire family out and some friends. Even some of our regulars from Bell Tower brought some new people too! We welcomed over 10 new bell ringers that night and it electrified the conversation with a new kind of energy that was great. Dawn from IFC shared with us some info on the programs and resources available to community members and families at 470 Selkirk Ave. We wanted to brainstorm how we could help families and the natural target of Child & Family Services as a system emerged as one of the main talking points. Check out the below photos to see the notes from our conversation.
The Angry Mob
It has been an interesting growth for me at the Bell Tower, now I find I mainly facilitate and don’t spend too much time sharing my own opinions. I take a hands off approach because when I let our community express themselves freely, often the solutions fall into our laps when we least expect them to. I love the people and the gatherings of MM@BT, they are literally a dream come true for me and provide a platform to the community to share information/ideas/concerns/hopes. One of the things that is common about the attendees though, is their passion. This zeal and enthusiasm for justice, and their own causes that often makes for interesting dialogue and discussion. That day was an interesting day because we all seemed to be in a mainly uniform opinion: we must abolish CFS. Some voices tried to be more gentle in their approach but the momentum for ‘we must get rid of CFS’ snowballed.
When Your Words Were An Arrow
I need to take a second here to say thank you to all of the people who have continued to support the bell tower and our anti-violence work in between fridays. But today I must give a special shout out to the teenager, who, attending the bell tower for the first time, piped up against this angry mob (of now close to thirty people) and shared her words: “We can’t get rid of CFS because there are some kids who need it. What are we going to do to help kids who really are in unsafe situation and need help?”. I wanna say thank you to this young person because it took a lot of guts to and say what she said and the effect and reaction was visible and obvious immediately. Silence. Furrowed brows. Then eventually, the realization that this young person was entirely correct. She shifted the conversation from ‘abolishment’ to ‘what is our solution?’ with a few short words organized into a well placed question. She was so smart. She waited until exactly the right moment, when our defenses were lowest and our passions were highest and our weaknesses were obvious. Ekosi and meegwetch to the youth who continue to share their voices.
What is the Action Item?
I shared this story so that we can all be reminded of the power of one voice. The power of an honest question, and the importance of being real and acting upon what is right. These are just words, but look at the ripple effect they can have on a group of people – they can provide focus. If we are talking about helping kids and families, lets make sure our actions reflect that. Let’s continue to work on listening to one another…especially in times of passionate debate. That young person transformed our group discussion into a productive dialogue. But our work is far from finished. What can we each do to help support our own families? What can be done to help address the inequities and challenges of the Child Welfare System?
Check out the Group Action Items we will be following up with in the future as decided upon at the end of the meeting:
- Invite good social workers/front line workers to the bell tower and share with us what works and what doesn’t work and recommendations for us
- Ask the Office of the Children’s Advocate to come to the Bell Tower and share info with us on the Rights of Children and how we can get that info out to all families
- Advocate for mandatory sensitivity training for workers (example: ARROWS Youth Engagement Strategy)
- Individual Action: contact a positive helper from your past and THANK THEM for their influence and support
This is something I struggle with everyday – I feel like the answer is out there; I just don’t know if we should use words or arrows?