The day may have been grey and overcast, but the mood inside the Campbell River Community Centre was anything but sombre Saturday as the community came together for the 20th annual Walk Away From Racism event to celebrate inclusion and diversity.
Naomi Wolfe, one of the founding members of the Immigrant Welcome Centre, the organization which – along with various community partners – has been putting on the walk for the past 20 years, said the event’s longevity speaks to the community’s real desire for social change and inclusion.
“This event has always brought together a cross section of the community,” Wolfe said, “and standing here, 20 years later, it’s hugely gratifying as one of the founders of the organization, to see how the seeds we planted as a small and committed group back then have grown very deep roots into our community and that the tree which has emerged is strong and bearing plenty of fruit.”
Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams told the crowd the city is happy to be a committed partner in the event and that he is proud to live in and serve as mayor for a community that holds these ideals so highly.
“I am extremely proud to learn that Campbell River’s is one of the longest-standing and largest events of its kind in B.C.,” he said.
“By participating today, we are celebrating Campbell River’s cultural diversity and our accepting, inclusive community. This is a day to recognize that equal opportunity is essential for everyone, regardless of race, colour, nationality or ethnic origin,” Adams said, adding that it is everyone’s responsibility to do their part, not just on one particular day, but every day, to lessen racism and discrimination’s role in our lives.
North Island MLA Claire Trevena echoed those sentiments, saying that having this event be a fixture of our community for 20 years is an accomplishment definitely worth recognizing, but the fight has still just begun.
“It says that we believe in inclusion. It says that we believe that racism has no part in our community, or in our province or the world in which we live,” Trevena said, but added that the global situation with millions of refugees fleeing destitution and hunger, the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and everything else happening in our country and around the world, there has never been a time where we need to be more vigilant in keeping racism and discrimination out of our lives.
“It’s something that we should be proud of,” she continued, “but it’s also something we need to continue to work on. This year, on the 20th anniversary, it is a time to celebrate, but it’s also a time to commit. To commit that we will all continue to walk away from racism.
“We will take that into all our lives, and into our workplaces, into our families and into our neighbourhoods, because there is no place for racism against any individual, any group, anywhere.”
Keynote speaker Elsie Paul, a celebrated and accomplished author and Sliammon Elder, spoke passionately about the need for inclusion and, most importantly, the recognition that “we’re all just people.”
“I think we’re on the right path towards recognizing that our neighbours are people just like us,” Paul said. “Our languages may be different, and we might be a different colour, but that shouldn’t be a barrier. We always need to reach out to people simply because they are our neighbours – our friends.”
And that’s what happened downtown Saturday. On Saturday the community came together and said, collectively, that it respects and appreciates its neighbours – whether they are neighbours in the house next door, neighbours who live other places around town or neighbours around the world.
Keynote speaker Elsie Paul reminded those in attendance that what’s most important is remembering that “we’re all just people.”