PROMOTING UNITY - Renee Vaugeois, executive director of the Edmonton-based John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, was the keynote speaker at this past weekend’s Community: The Power of One event held at the Golden Circle.in Red Deer. Mark Weber/Lacombe Express

WATCH: Tackling racism a focus of ‘Power of One’ event

Community members gathered in for workshops and talks about bettering society

‘Responding to Racism and Discrimination’ was the theme of the keynote speech delivered during this weekend’s Community: The Power of One.

The event, which included workshops, networking and the chance to learn about related City of Red Deer initiatives, was hosted by the Central Alberta Refugee Effort and the Red Deer Native Friendship Society.

“We’re not going to get anywhere in our communities if we are always working on these issues separately,” said Renee Vaugeois, executive director of the Edmonton-based John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. “We have to create places where we can connect and see our common ground and come together.

“Whether it’s people living with disabilities, indigenous communities, newcomer communities, temporary foreign workers – we all need to be in this space.

“It’s through that solidarity that I think we can affect change,” she said.

She added that with various stakeholders looking at the same issue from different vantage points, everyone can see a different piece that is part of that issue. “We can’t claim to know all about that issue – but when we are in that circle, when we are together and have our different perspectives we have collective wisdom. It’s much stronger.”

She also noted that these days it’s tougher to have fruitful discussions because of stark and ongoing political differences.

Still, communities have to strive to make connections beyond their differences – political or otherwise.

“Rights are only as real as we make them. They are progressive and evolutionary. They aren’t static – just because they are on paper doesn’t mean they exist.

“It’s that important realization that these documents are aspirational, but they are also something we can achieve and that we need to hold our governments accountable to at all levels,” she said, referring to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as an example.

Rights break down essentially to those of security, freedom, justice and dignity which taps into having the right to take part in the decisions that affect us, she said.

“Rights are meant to be holistic – those things that we deserve to live a life of well-being and to achieve our full potential,” she said.

As to racism, it can be individual or systemic, she said.

“Monitoring and reporting on rights and racism is really critical.” That includes reporting hate crimes, which sometimes individuals are reluctant to do.

She added that it’s also important to listen to others, and not always be so intent on making our own voices heard.

“This is a journey, it’s about building relationships. Recognizing and realizing human rights and addressing racism is all about us knowing each other. If we don’t know each other, we can’t even connect with each other.

“What I have learned more and more over the years is that we often look at our government officials and expect them to solve it,” she said, referring to issues revolving around race and racial relations.

“The reality is that’s not where it happens. The reality is that it happens with the people.

“It’s about us at the grassroots level to continue to come together, to build these relationships, to work in solidarity, not to be aggressive necessarily with government. It’s about building these relationships with collaboration and being willing to be uncomfortable.”

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