The aim was to provide a safe, neutral platform to encourage proactive conversation about antiracism in Delta.
THIS (Tsawwassen Harmony Initiative Society) recently hosted a successful roundtable discussion and community forum at Harris Barn.
The forum brought together select community representatives comprised of concerned citizens, youth, local leaders, First Nations elders, and government officials and was moderated by award-winning radio and television broadcaster, Simi Sara.
THIS was started by local residents Warren Dean Flandez and Geeta Schallig NaRai Dawn Sherritt and Michael Soltis with the mandate to restore harmony through arts, culture and community by placing a positive value on what makes each of us unique and celebrating our commonalities.
‘THIS’ is an initiative driven collective that creates platforms focused on community restoration at a humanitarian level. With a common goal of bringing people together through arts and culture, the team at THIS is dedicated to providing meaningful experiences that encourage community engagement and immersive learning opportunities through social campaigns and community.
“We decided that the environment we wanted to create was safety, vulnerability, calm, neutral, kindness – just a safe place to speak, so we decided on a circle because it symbolizes unity, it allows you to see people and connect with each other,” said Schallig. “Having the mayor sit in the circle with a student from SDSS, and an on-line moderator, it really lent itself to ensure there was no hierarchy.”
Schallig said having someone like Sara as the moderator gave the forum a high level of credibility.
“She felt compelled to do this,” said Flandez, adding that they were grateful that she chose to moderate. “We did have some people who were invited to participate, but chose not to. We had some empty chairs within the circle, but we left them empty on purpose. We wanted to symbolize that you have a space and are welcome. We are all in different places looking to get to the same place.”
The forum was 90-minutes and was well attended online with lots of engagement, said the organizers.
“There was a strong focus around the school board and what they are doing,” said Flandez. “There was definitely some gaps there, where there was silence and that silence shows us that there is so much work left to be done. It was all about stripping it down to a human level where we could talk face-to-face.”
THIS expects to roll out more ideas and plans in the coming weeks and months to continue to engage with the community, support other organizations and to continue to have an open dialogue around issues of racism and other social issues in the community.
“Everyone who was there I think had some anxiety coming in, which is why we went with this speaking circle concept,” added Flandez. “Afterwards everyone stuck around and just talked and engaged, made connections with people who they would never have connected with online or in another way, so for us, that was a major win.
“You talk about impact, measurable goals, for us all we did is bring 18 people together who probably would never have been together under any other circumstance.”
Mayor George Harvie and Coun. Dylan Kruger participated.
In a statement to the Optimist, the Delta politicians said they were honoured to participate.
“We want to thank the organizers for all of their hard work in bringing together leaders from across our community to discuss the important topics of anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion. Unfortunately, BIPOC members of our community continue to experience racism every day in our City. As local leaders, it is incumbent on us to listen to the voices of the BIPOC community and work together to address systemic racism here in Delta.
“We are inspired by the powerful stories and conversations that this forum helped to facilitate. This fall, the City of Delta will launch a Mayor’s Task force on Anti-racism, Diversity and Inclusion. We will also be hiring an exterior consultant to audit our city processes from a diversity lens, and make recommendations back to the committee. There is much more work to be done. With the help of great organizations like THIS, we are committed to continuing the fight to make Delta a safe and inclusive place to live for everyone in our community.”