By Munira Yusuf
– December 2021 –
Every year on December 6th, Central Neighbourhood House hosts its annual event for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in honor of the 14 women that were murdered during the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989. This year’s virtual event titled Amplifying Voices & Experiences, explored the impact of mental health and isolation amongst Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities during the pandemic. The get-together was jam packed with amazing speakers and fantastic performances including spoken word, Jingle Dress dance, musical performances, virtual healing sessions, and a panel discussion from keynote speakers.
The event started off with a traditional hand drumming and Jingle Dress dance from Indigenous performers Kevin Myran, Sage Myran, Joey Myran, and Dakota Myran. Following the dance performance, special keynote speaker Brenda McIntyre, a medicine woman and artist, guided the attendees through a breathing session while performing her songs of healing called Women and Breath of life, for those dealing with trauma, grief, and anxiety. Other featured artists such as Jayden and Spoken by T performed powerful spoken word poetry for the virtual audience.
The middle half of the function included a diverse panelist of community members including mental health counselor Yohanna Beraki, community advocate Sarah Simpson, community builder Walid Khogali Ali, and wellness coordinator Nichole M. Leveck to share their own experiences and discussion on mental health in the Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities.
Host Wendy De Souza from Metrac, opened up the discussion as the panelists discussed the ways in which the pandemic has affected the BIPOC community and how they believe it has contributed to the increase in gender-based violence. Beraki stressed the importance of recognizing how the disparity in accessing support services during the pandemic can exacerbate these existing issues. During the conversation of culturally appropriate services, Simpson encouraged individuals to look beyond the western notion of therapy and to “go back to their roots” by seeking support where they are comfortable whether it is a religious leader or a coach. At the same time, Khogali Ali reminded service providers to be intentional when providing support and to challenge their biases. Bringing forth traditional insight, Leveck explained the significance of connecting with the land and taking care of one another as a community through organic growth.
Closing off the discussion and without missing a beat, the vibrant Afro-Caribbean dancers, C-Flava, brought the excitement with their rhythmic African dance performance. As the event came to an end, Chris Leonard, private consultant, community healer, and educator, invited everyone to reflect on the three questions: Who am I? Who have I been? Who am I becoming? She welcomed everyone in the audience to practice grounding techniques for regulating the nervous system all while remembering to stop, reflect, pause and reset.
Overall, the virtual gathering was a success with an amazing turnout from community members and service providers. The participants also walked away with information on resources they can access or share with others.