Category Archives: Social Justice & Equality

World YWCA Day

Today is World YWCA Day. The theme for World YWCA Day is Rise Up! Support and Invest in Young Women’s Rights. It’s one day where we can celebrate our accomplishments. It’s also National Volunteer Week. Immediately, we thought of our Board President Jennifer Bonato. She is the perfect example of rising up.

Jennifer speaking at our Annual General Meeting

Jennifer is a life-long Niagara resident who is passionate about social justice-based advocacy – which is why the YWCA has been a great fit for her. With an academic history grounded in women’s and gender studies and feminist theory, Jennifer actively promotes the use of one’s sociological imagination in the every day.

Jennifer completed a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 2013, and a Graduate Certificate in Public Relations in 2014. In 2016, Jennifer received her Master of Arts in Critical Sociology. Jennifer’s Graduate research explores the social and political aspects of biotechnology in agriculture, and was presented at the International Rural Sociology Association’s 2016 World Congress.

She’s taking on more of a role this year as well becoming Co-Committee Chair of the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women. What does this mean? Along with Julie Rorison another board member and influential female within the community who rises up constantly, they will ensure that this Niagara Leadership Summit for Women will be the best one yet.

Her impact doesn’t stop there. Jennifer wanted to create more awareness in high schools about the growing problem of homelessness in Niagara. But she wanted to do something that would be fun for the students to participate in to ensure that they students actually came out. This is how our Hockey Helping Homes event began.

We are extremely grateful and lucky that Jennifer chooses to dedicate her time to our organization, furthering our mission of empowering women.

Thank you Jennifer for all you do!

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @jenniferbonato

My Identity Defines My Feminism

Slavica

When we hear about feminism in the media, it seems to be this homogenous idea for all women, that represents all women but what pop culture understands as feminism is only a small portion of the vast varieties of FEMINISMS. Yes feminisms, plural not singular. The movement in its inception was only represented by white, upper middle class, heterosexual, cisgender women. Black women, lesbian women, immigrants, indigenous, poor, disabled, trans, none of these women were talked about or represented and as the second wave approached feminism started to redefine itself by these women who felt they needed a voice of their own.

By the time the third wave had hit, we had defined feminism through the
concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality looks at how a person’s various identities can affect their experiences. For example, how would ones class and race affect their experiences of the world? If for example you were poor and white, your skin colour would give you privilege. Simple truth is, you wouldn’t have to worry about being followed around in a store in fear that you might steal something because rationally we know stealing is about an individual’s choice. But we make it a race problem because we associate certain qualities like criminality to different groups of people. In this way we disempower certain people based on the categories of identity they inhabit.

To me, history plays a key role in understanding feminism because if the structures of the past were really gone than it would be history but they’re not. To say something is in the past like slavery is to deny the structure of oppression has just transformed to something more subtle like when racist ideologies within a society link criminality to race. That’s why the argument that feminism is not needed anymore because women have achieved rights means nothing. Patriarchy has just transformed the way it oppresses women, regardless of the rights we won.

This understanding of the importance of history in feminism came from me trying to learn about my own historical and cultural identity. Personally, I never felt I fit into the stereotypical Serbian identity but I couldn’t throw away my heritage. I enjoyed having a unique culture but I was also assimilated within the Canadian context. Never fully Serbian or Canadian where ever I went. However, recently I have accepted that I am both a Canadian citizen and a Serbian Immigrant and I don’t have to choose either identity. Both pieces makeup the whole that is my existence.

Unfortunately, with the rise of nationalism and colonial ideologies of the “white nation”, time has shown that nothing is ever truly in the past, it just changes form. As Trumps America is resembling Hitler’s Nazi Germany in the 21st century context of globalization and capitalism, more and more. We need feminism more and more. We need people to understand that tearing others apart and oppressing them because of their differences won’t make a country great. Instead, it will tear itself apart.

IWD Q & A

I am very lucky to have so many strong, amazing and empowering female friends. We have had many discussions about how we don’t really feel affected by gender inequality because we grew up feeling equal to men and we have always been very independent. I have one amazing friend, Kelsey, who ended up becoming a tool and die maker, and is one of the only women not in an administrative role at the company she works for. She’s been featured in newspapers and magazines about her success in the field, and is a role model for other women to start a career in the trades. Our friend group always jokes about her success and badassness (that’s a word), and her ability to do, well, anything. She had graduated 2 different programs with honours and awards by the time most of us had graduated university. When we were talking about International Women’s Day/Month at the last Blogger’s Meeting, I immediately knew I wanted to interview her about her journey in the tool and dye field.
Amazingly, she had been asked to instantly fly down to South Carolina to do some work at another factory. She was working non-stop down there and still found the time to answer these questions for me, so thank you!

D: So what the heck do you do for a living?

K: I am a red seal certified tool and die maker, I work for a company that builds the dies for many different companies such as Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes etc. I work as a lead hand delegating jobs, fixing issues with the dies, making sure we meet the customers’ timelines, and provide a die that will make a dimensionally and cosmetically correct car part. My company often builds dies that produce more complicated parts and the ones consumers actually see, such as the body side, tailgate, and doors. Tool and die is a hard trade to describe to people, but there’s my attempt explaining it in one sentence.

Abandoned Conveyor Belt by darkday

 

D: Well you did a pretty good job at explaining it, in my opinion. Did you always want to be a tool and die maker, or what did you want to be when you grew up, as a child?

K: I remember as a child saying I wanted to be a veterinarian, often a popular choice with kids who like cats and dogs but I never obsessed over a certain career.

D: So what did you do after high school?

K: In high school I used the co-op placement to work at a bakery, and that experience helped me decide to go to George Brown College for Baking and Pastries Arts. I remember in grade 11, really having no idea what I wanted to do but knowing university wasn’t right for me, so I picked baking as a career path.

D: [Sidenote: Kelsey then became the friend we would force to make cakes for us when we had a party or holiday coming up.] So what made you want to change careers?

K: I found the culinary trade relies heavily on your passion for the work, and often the desire to open your own business. I enjoyed baking but you work long days, often really early mornings, and you have to work holidays. I never really got a chance to enjoy my time off, or get time off to begin with. I knew I would never open my own bakery and I felt the job would never allow me to be financially independent. All the job postings I was seeing for bakers were often lower paying with no benefits. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.

D: Okay, so you decided you wanted to do something different. What made you think of a tool and die worker?

K: I decided I didn’t want a career as a pastry chef, but I also didn’t know what I should do instead. My father works in the trades as an insulator and said he thought I would make a good millwright. That made me start looking into millwrights and possible schooling options. I discovered the Centre for Skilled Trades and Development in Burlington. They offered a Millwright/Tool and Die Pre-Apprenticeship Program affiliated with a company that would hire you depending on how the training goes. The program was also only 6 months, which was great because I wouldn’t have to take a long break from working full time. Based on the schooling, I decided I would become a tool and die maker (not a millwright) and was hired as an apprentice. I continued my training for 3 more years by going to Sheridan College one day a week while continuing to work. It was great because I wasn’t racking up any student debt (my tuition was only $400 a year) and received government grants from companies supporting the skilled trades.

D: What was your very first day on the job like?

K: The first day was extremely over whelming! No amount of classroom training can prepare you for, what looks like, such a chaotic environment. A production plant is fast paced with many moving elements. I could feel that eyes were on me. To make things worse, I didn’t have a proper work uniform yet so I felt really self-conscious walking around in my jeans since they are more form fitting than regular uniform pants.

D: Were you scared at all to work in a mostly male-dominated industry?

K: I feel like scared is the wrong term. I think I was just as nervous as anyone would be starting a new job, regardless of gender. I had no idea if and how I would be accepted. I honestly believe the men I worked with were just as nervous and worried that they might say something wrong or inappropriate to me. For the first couple months, I don’t think I had a genuine conversation or joked around with any of my coworkers. The conversation was often super formal or just filler talk about the job. It definitely became easier to bond with my coworkers when I got a new job at a different company that had more employees closer to my age.

It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.

D: What are you most proud of during your time in the tool and die industry?

K: My current role as a lead hand has come with a lot of responsibility, stress, and a strong feeling of pride. I am one of very few female tool and die makers and it’s even rarer for one to take on a supervisor type position. It is the most stressful and challenging job I have ever had, and that just proves to me what a smart decision I made with this career path.

D: What are some funny or crazy stories that you can share with us?

K: I have been in a fair share of strange, awkward, and funny situations at work; most times it becomes a good story to tell my friends and sometimes it’s something that really pisses me off. I can share that the men’s washroom is covered with graffiti and inappropriate writing on the walls. When a co-worker told me about that I was so confused because they were all working adults, I just didn’t get it. There was also a time when a mystery person was drawing penises all over the factory, and it got so bad that management had to get involved and start checking security cameras. It was so embarrassingly unprofessional and they never figured out who it was.

I remember at the first place I worked, there was this one line worker that wouldn’t stop asking me out. The first time he asked me, I politely said “no sorry, I have a boyfriend.” But he would still always ask to take me out to dinner! I would walk a different way around the shop to avoid him because it was always such an uncomfortable conversation. Eventually he quit or was fired, so I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Now, if anyone asks me out I just immediately shut it down. I have worked at my current company for so long everyone knows me and that I’m married and it’s not a situation I face anymore.

Boys Locker Room by Mari Gildea

Other than that type of thing, every now and then at the lunch table someone will be looking at their phone and they start laughing and pass the phone around to the other guys at the table. Then they stop and realize I am also at the table and they don’t know if they should pass the phone to me or not. I guess they don’t want to take the chance of potentially offending me. It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.

More recently, I found myself working down in the States fixing issues an assembly plant had with the dies we built them. The plant manager would go and talk to one of the guys who was down there working with me and asked him for timelines and the progress of the job. My co-worker paused and proceeded to point at me and say “I don’t know, go ask my boss.” Honestly, I find nothing really phases me any more. I really enjoy my job and the work environment. The job is awesome; not just the work and the financial benefits, but all the entertaining stories I get to tell my friends.

D: Tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments, or something you are most proud of.

K: I have had a lot of success in my career, (considering I have only been working in this industry for 6 years) and I am already a lead hand at my company. But, I am the proudest of the fact that I am able to inspire other woman to work in the trades, and breakdown the preconceived beliefs about women working in this industry. Volunteering with Skills Ontario and talking to high school girls about the many career options out there brings me great pride. I have had a couple different women tell me that my career story gave them motivation to pursue a future in the trades.

D: What does your husband think about your profession?

When we were first dating and I told him I was quitting the bakery to go back to school for a tool and die maker, he was confused. Mostly because he had no idea what a tool and die maker was, and secondly because he didn’t want me to stop making delicious cookies. Now that he gets what I do every day, he is really impressed and proud of what I have been able to accomplish. However, sometimes he can get frustrated with the amount of hours I work. There are times when I will work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week and get home and immediately pass out on the couch. We have talked about balancing work and life, and how there will be times when I have to work those long days, or randomly go to the States for three weeks for a job. He knows how important my job is to me, and he’s the person I confide in when I had a bad day, when nothing goes right, and when I’m questioning my abilities. My career has also been beneficial to him: he doesn’t have to be the sole breadwinner in our household, and was able to take a lower paying position with better options for advancement because I could support us.

D: Thank you, Kelsey! You can add this blog post to your wall of newspaper and magazine articles about how amazing you are!

K: [Eye roll and laughs]

IWD Reflection

I had the privilege and pleasure of attending multiple International Women’s Day Events throughout the region. I wish I could have attended them all. I can’t even describe the empowerment I felt while being surrounded by incredible, strong, brave, bold, and passionate women.

One of the events I was able to go to was the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce’s Women In Niagara Council’s International Women’s Day event on March 3rd. Club Roma was filled with brilliant minds. Everywhere I looked, there was an outstanding woman that I wanted to know.

The keynote speaker was Teresa Cascioli. I was thrilled to be able to hear her speak. I was torn between typing out all of the impactful things she was saying so I could tweet them, or just soaking up the moment and letting her words really resonate with me. I did a mixture and I’m still not sure which one would have been the best option.

Teresa said, “Prior to selling my business no one listened.” It was as though Teresa’s voice didn’t matter because she had yet to have a great accomplishment. She then asked the important questions and you could hear the room nod in agreement: “Why do women have to say it more often? Why do we have to say it louder? Why do we have to prove ourselves?”

One of the most important and reoccurring messages throughout the event was you have to be impatient for results.

The WIN council also presented Rosemary Hale with the International Women’s Day Award. I was so excited to hear her speech, I couldn’t even consider recording any notes. I watched as Rosemary accepted the award with grace and honour. She inspired us all with talk about her past being the first female dean at Brock University. She is now retired and loving it as she has time to be a strong advocate for arts, volunteer at Hospice Niagara, and continuing to write. When she brought into focus her mentor Nora who said, “Life is drama. Every minute of our lives is drama…a slice of drama.” The idea that drama can be a good thing and not just with an arts background. Taking to the Be Bold For Change theme, Rosemary emphasized just how important it is to start demanding results, and start demanding change. To really do something about what you are passionate about in order to make a difference. “It’s about loving your bold, showing your bold.”

Broadband’s 25th Anniversary Performance of Women in Music Benefit Concert for the YWCA Niagara Region happened this past Sunday. The event is to celebrate International Women’s day focusing on Women in Music.
It was amazing! Listening to the inspirational songs including one about Nellie McClung. If you’re interested in catching a little taste of what the music was like, check it out 
here. The positive and empowering vibes from the band and the attendees was refreshing. Hearing reflections of the past made me want to do more research and spend time thinking about women in our history who really have made a difference for us.

Thursday was actually International Women’s Day. I attended the Be Bold For Change event which happened at Gwen’s Teas. Although I showed up late and missed networking with some other attendees, I really enjoyed the event. It was nice to see people have an outlet to write down how they would be bold for change and why they identify as feminists. Everyone brought their own thoughts, opinions, and reasons for being there. The discussion around politics was insightful. It just clarified all the more how important it is to involve women in politics. These discussions are exactly why we need more events, more meetings, more conversation around what women really can do.

All of these events opened my eyes to so many things. They made me really think. “It’s about showing your bold,” ran through my mind for days. That’s when I realize, being bold isn’t just about what is outlined on the International Women’s Day website (although those are great pledges), it’s about finding what works for you. I did make the pledge to celebrate women’s achievements because I think successes need to be acknowledged. I still stand by that pledge. Earlier this year, I also made a promise to have my voice heard in a blog post for the Practical Feminist after the Women’s March in January. But now, after all of these events, I pledge to find my bold and use it to help women.

 

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Power of Being a Girl 2017

Power of Being a Girl

YWCA Niagara is hosting it’s 11th Annual Power of Being a Girl conference within the region.
Many events lose interest of the community and participants after that many years, but this conference remains popular. Why? Maybe it has to do with the powerful impact it has on the grade 10 girls from all over the region who participate.

Throughout the years, the event has touched many lives. One of the speakers in previous years explained that at one of the conferences, some of the girls came up to her individually to self-disclose issues they have felt including thoughts of suicide and the difference the day had made to them. 12 girls that day felt empowered enough to find positives in their lives, things to look forward to as well as to speak about it. That’s some of the differences these events can make.

As huge a success as that story is, Power of Being a Girl has also inspired girls to discuss body image issues, negative feelings of loneliness. The discomfort most girls face during the ups and downs of teenage years. Some students have said:

“I felt alone and isolated. I was living in everyone’s shadow,” she said of the difficulties she once had but has since overcome. “Now I want to help others get out of the shadow and let their light shine.”  – St. Catharines Standard

More participants said:

“Your skin is the costume. Your personality is the beauty,” she says.

“If you keep trying to be what society thinks is perfect, you’ll never experience peace.

“You’re always chasing.” – St.Catharines Standard

The conference gives girls a safe place where they can check in with themselves and realize they are not alone in their feelings. They have the chance to ban together and encourage confidence in each other.

“At first, I was really nervous. And then I realized, we’re all girls here,”

“Everyone has flaws. They have to learn to love those flaws. They have to learn to love themselves.”

“Really, really good. Made me proud to be a woman.”

“My favourite part was knowing that I’m worth something and finding strengths I never thought I had.”

This year’s conference speaks to healthy relationships. We have no idea what’s truly in store for these participants in terms of revelations but we sure look forward to exploring them. If it’s anything like the last ten years, it will be a huge success, change the lives of so many.

#POBG2017

Make A Self Care Resolution

Feeling anxious? Down? Overwhelmed or even angry? I get it. We’re a few weeks into the New Year and the weather and light seem to be in perpetual November gloom. There’s no snow to brighten things here in Niagara, and spring is by no means just around the corner. Maybe you have bills piling up and no way to take care of them. Or you’re scared and raging that your neighbour next door is installing an angry billionaire as president, because, you know, he says he cares about the little guy. Or perhaps you are grieving or hurting from a loss. You might just be bone tired of slogging through life. I just want to say it won’t always feel this way.

I just want to say it won’t always feel this way.

It might feel worse, yet. But however wretched you feel, you feel. And it’s okay to feel miserable. It’s even okay to retreat a bit and rest away from the world.

But not forever. You don’t deserve interminable torment. If you feel like you can’t go on, give yourself permission to reach out and ask for help. Try a helpline, a doctor, a trained counsellor, or a friend. Join a group. Talk to someone. Getting help for your hurt is a radical act of self love.

If your pain is mild and just the temporary or situational bruises of life, resolve to look after yourself in little ways that give you joy: Go for a walk and look for ragged beauty (let’s face it, it’s dreary now and that may be the only beauty we can find); eat some ice cream; have a nap; write a letter; paint your nails; crank a tune and sing; volunteer; say “I love you” (doesn’t have to be in words and it doesn’t have to be to a human).

 

Let’s Do Something, Not Nothing

101 Men: An Innovative Approach to Ending Gender Violence

By Inspectable Todd Gilmore

November 18th, 2016, St Catharines, Ontario.

Let’s Do Something, Not Nothing.

If this event was called Men 101 it might be a training event for women to better understand why some men exhibit harmful behaviour towards women. We learned during the training that women have always taken a leadership role in ending gender violence so that’s an event that’s probably already occurred many times over. Women’s leadership on this issue was easy to see at the event itself. Behind almost all the display tables of community organizations that work to end gender violence, stood a woman. As we also found out during the training, if this event was called Men 101 it could realistically be a training program that explains why not enough is being done by men to end gender violence even after men participate in this training.

I believe the group of men I was with at 101 Men Event in St Catharines, Ontario will show courage and do something, not nothing.

I’ll start with this article.

Let’s be clear the main problem when it comes to gender violence is men abusing women.  This abuse can take a number of forms including verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual. To end gender violence we learned this has to be a “men’s issue” and men in positions of power and influence, like the men with me at the 101 Men Event, need to step up. And punch up, not down, if required.

We learned that the best place to influence or intervene is by attacking language, attitudes, beliefs, and aspects of our culture that support abusive behaviour towards women or make it seem acceptable. By the time the gender violence occurs it’s too late and we’ve missed a ton of opportunities to address the root causes of gender violence that are so pervasive around us. It can be as simple as using active instead of passive language. Passive language says “how many women were raped?” while active language says “how many men raped women?”. You can easily see that using passive language takes men out of the equation when the opposite should occur and the men involved should be held accountable.

“Passive language takes men out of the equation.”

General Marsden of the Australian military said it best when he made a statement of action while dealing with inappropriate men’s behaviour in his own organization.  He said “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

On Friday November 18th, 2016 I spent 8 hours with 101 Men, community leaders from across Niagara and the surrounding regions who were there because they want to take action. I saw an outstanding group of men who were there to make a change, to not walk past, to take ownership of a men’s issue and to create higher standards in their sphere of influence in order counter gender violence.

Join me in doing something, not nothing.

(Insp Todd Gilmore, OIC RCMP HNRD)

What Goes On Behind Closed Doors

Everyone knows someone who has been, or is being abused. It may even be yourself. The problem is that nobody likes to talk about such a horrible subject. Everyone wants to believe that it will never happen to them. But the truth is if you were to look around at the people you know, there’s at least one person who is suffering in silence.

Abuse comes in many forms and may be difficult to spot at first glance. The person who is being subjected to abuse will often lie or cover up what is happening to them because they are ashamed or embarrassed.  They often live in fear and believe that they are helpless to do anything to stop the abuse. Sometimes they have been beaten down so badly that they can’t see a way out.

I know a few women who are in unhealthy relationships, but one stands out more clearly than the others.  She is someone I love very much and it kills me to watch her being treated so horribly. To the outsider it seems like she lives a privileged life. She has been married over 30 years to a successful businessman who earns a six-figure income.  They have a beautiful large home on the outskirts of town with a swimming pool and hot tub. They both drive new cars and go on vacation to the Caribbean every winter.  It looks like she’s living the dream.  But, appearances can be deceiving!  She is married to a man who controls every aspect of her life, from the way she cooks to the correct way she’s expected to stack things in the fridge and cupboards.  He decides when and where she can drive her car.  He has driven away every single one of her friends with his rude comments and obnoxious behaviour.  He has worn her down to a shell of her former self.  He undermines her confidence and tells her she isn’t capable of doing anything without his input and permission. He barks orders at her and monitors her every movement.  He talks down to her and degrades her publicly.  He beat her dog every time it did anything he perceived as being disobedient. He has had multiple affairs and she finds evidence of the gifts he buys for other women.  He hides money from her and closed their joint bank account.  He comes and goes as he pleases and never offers an explanation for his whereabouts.   He talks to her like she’s a child and treats her like an object that he owns.

We were both married in the same year to the same kind of man. Except that I left after 10 years of abuse and heartache. I left with nothing but my children and my sanity. It wasn’t always easy but I have never regretted leaving. I’ve put myself through school multiple times, I’ve travelled and experienced so many opportunities that life has to offer.  I wasn’t able to live in a big fancy house but at the end of the day I could come home with my children and lock the door behind me knowing that there was no one there to ridicule and belittle me.  I was free to make choices and learn through my mistakes without someone degrading me.  I didn’t know what life held for me when I left but I knew anything was better than living with someone who enjoyed suffocating the life out of me.

I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to get my friend to understand that she has so much more power than she’s aware of. I’ve tried to explain to her that she holds the cards to her future and that she has more power than she realizes.  She would never be destitute because he would have to give her a very generous settlement, in spite of his underhanded ways.  And yet, she still feels trapped in her golden cage.  It should be illegal for someone to abuse their spouse but until she’s ready to make a move, all I can do is offer her unconditional love and support.

If the day ever comes that she finds the strength to detach herself from this selfish, arrogant, abusive sociopath I will be there to help her pick up the pieces of her life.

Year End Motivation: Move Forward, Not Backward

“Don’t agonize, organize”

Florynce “Flo” Kennedy was known, among other things, for her biting wit, intelligence, and ability to incite and organize protest in the 1960s and 1970s civil rights and feminist movements. Among her famous quotes is the above, and this:

“I’m just a loud-mouthed middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I’m crazy. Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I’m not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren’t like me.”

The story is that this is what she said after she organized a mass public pissing (erm, urination) at Harvard university in 1973, to protest the lack of female bathrooms.
died in 2000, but her words live on, and so should her methods. I kind of like her idea of “making noise” and “rattling your cage door”. This past year has battered a lot of people emotionally. In the grander scheme, it has been another year of war and political turbulence, where we’ve seen the relentless pummelling of parts of Syria and the most disheartening return to fear and loathing in politics with the U.S. presidential election. In Niagara, it has been another year of economic stagnation that presents challenges for individuals living on the edge and the organizations (such as the YWCA) that work on their behalf.

What Progress?

Many moons ago, when I was in university, I recall a political philosophy professor telling my class he wasn’t so sure about human “progress”. He was sure about scientific progress, and ever so grateful for advances in medical technology, but progress in human nature? That is what he wanted us to read on about, ponder, and determine for ourselves. It is, for me, a nagging doubt that surfaces in times of strife or crisis. Are we better humans than our ancestors? Despite our supposed sophistication, have we learned anything?

The hind-end of 2016 left a lot of people anxious about the future and fearing a resurgence of racist and sexist ideals from the past. In North America, Trump’s ascendency seemed to embolden a lot of haters. In the U.K. and Europe, far-right ideas seemed to drown-out good-will and love. A lot of people were and are demoralized. Have we really forgotten our history and the brutal, blood-soaked lessons of the past? Are we moving into a new age of dystopian futility where people believe hate is right and good? Is this our era of De-Enlightenment?

I hope not. I don’t want to go there. And I’ve got work to do (with others) to help ensure we don’t. Flo Kennedy advocated grand acts of rebellion, but just as importantly, small acts of resistance, to bring about change. She clearly had faith in human progress and believed in moving forward. As she said:

“the biggest sin is sitting on your ass.”

Eyes of Love

What if we looked at others through eyes that could only see the good in them? What would our world be like? What would our daily life be like? Could the way we see others influence our every interaction?

At first I was afraid. When I would see someone who looked a little different than me, I would start to notice their imperfections, I would look at their facial deformities or their lack of responsiveness and awareness and I would, for a brief moment, feel bad for them. I would look at people with missing limbs or bones and feel sorry for them. I would look at someone who had no “quality of life” and wonder, is this kind of life really worth living?

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that this fear was something very deeply rooted in me that was very wrong. This fear, was more that I was shy and I didn’t always know what to say. It was more an ugly part of myself that thought beauty and the quality of the life we live was based on how we look and how close to perfect we are.

It is these very people that I looked at, and learned how to interact with, that taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life. The most important parts of my personality. The best qualities of myself that I could ever hope for. It is the people that I was able to support that showed me what compassion looks like. Showed me what love looks like. Showed me what acceptance is. Showed me, a girl who thought she was kind, gentle, patient…what kindness, gentleness, and patience actually is.

It is the very people that I looked at and felt sorry for that opened my heart to the idea that I was very blessed to have the opportunity to even communicate with the people that I supported. That I was so very fortunate to be a part of their lives, a part of their care, a part of their success, their failure, their joy, and their sadness. I didn’t include them, they included me.

They included me in ways that I could not have ever asked for. I’ve looked into the eyes of people and I have sometimes thought, is what I’m doing even worth it? Do they even know that I’m here? Who I am? They can’t communicate with me, they barely even look in my direction, what could I possibly be doing to benefit them? To make their quality of life better?

It turns out that they were making my quality of life better. With one smile, with one laugh, with one gentle touch of the hand, with one brief second of eye contact; to remind me that, they are here, they are human, they are a valuable life. It may seem like they have limited functional abilities, but they see you, and they know that you care for them.

They know that you include them. They know that their life matters to you. They know that you will not be another person who looks at them and doesn’t see them. Who looks at them and doesn’t know how to communicate or interact with them. They know that you will try and fail at being good at this and they will appreciate when you finally let go of your own insecurities and just see them for who they are. A beautiful creation worthy of love and belonging. A beautiful soul within a body that was made to look different, but perfect just the same.

They will know that you see them through eyes of love for all people. How beautiful it is to connect and relate to a person despite our differences. The greatest feeling I’ve experienced might just be this. A heart filled with joy, certain, that it has deeply connected with another heart, through eyes of love.