Approximatively 30 youth advocates and adult allies from all across the province met in Toronto last week to discuss the barriers that youth are facing in their communities at Re:Action4Inclusion’s Summer Institute.
Re:Action4Inclusion is a youth-led initiative that empowers youth, with and without a disability, to make our schools and communities more inclusive spaces.
At this year’s Summer Institute, the Re:Action4Inclusion movement invited youth from other social justice movements to join them and participate in a knowledge exchange event. Attendees came from a diverse number of grassroots advocacy groups, including the Youth Social Infrastructure Collaborative, R.I.S.E. and 4R’s. Youth and adult allies from the Durham Youth Council, the Markham Youth Council, as well as Volunteer Markham were also present.
The intent of the event was to create space for youth leaders from the Re:Action4Inclusion movement to be in conversation with other youth leaders of social justice movements about inclusion. It was an opportunity to learn of each other’s work and in particular for young people of other movements, who are conscious of barriers faced by minority groups, to hear from youth who have an intellectual disability.
Through this conversation, this diverse collective of youth activists and their adult allies recognized that there is a shared experience among the youth whom their movements represent that experience barriers limiting their potential and their ability to be active citizens in their communities.
On July 6th, Dr. Andrew Campbell presented the keynote address at the Re:Action4Inclusion Summer Institute in Toronto. Campbell, an educator, professor and speaker who received his PhD in Educational Leadership, Diversity and Policy from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, spoke to everyone about the need to be deliberate and authentic in one’s advocacy and inclusion efforts.
“We can’t be pretentious about inclusion. The friendships that we build must always be genuine. They can’t be the product of us making charitable efforts to make ourselves feel good.”
Campbell cautioned attendees against adhering to a checkbox model approach to advocacy, which refers to a tokenism by which advocates see people as a box to check off on their diversity list, rather than people who have something to offer an organization or community.
Linda White, Manager of Youth and Family Projects at Community Living Ontario, reflected this sentiment, adding “Inclusion isn’t just about being nice, rather it’s about seeing the value in people. When we see the value in people we come to expect contributions from them.”
Conference attendee and youth, Morgan Brontmire, has been practising this approach to advocacy over the past two years through the work of her Community Change Project. Her advice for fostering greater inclusion is that allies should not try to be a voice for people who have an intellectual disability, but rather an ally’s role is to support a person to use their own voice to advocate for themselves.
Campbell concluded his address by providing attendees with a number of potential strategies to employ when seeking to foster greater inclusion within our communities.
“What I’m giving you here today are the tools to realize that you have power, and that you can use that power to make a difference in the lives of others.”
These tools included an overview of how to engage in courageous conversations, how to effectively communicate that one size does not fit all and a willingness to always participate in professional development and personal growth initiatives.
During the latter half of the conference, participants explored potential opportunities for future collaboration between movements through a graphically-facilitated mapping session. Through that process, youth participants shared how their lived experience has motivated them to become active in a social justice movement. The group also discussed conceptions of what citizenship entails, various reforms that need to be implemented at the individual and systemic levels, and identified collective and individual strengths within the group.
Re:Action4Inclusion will be holding its annual conference for youth from October 20th to 22nd at YMCA Geneva Park in Orillia. The theme of this year’s conference is Youth: Be Artists of People. Stay tuned for additional information! Registration details can be found on Re:Action4Inclusion’s website.
Spencer Jacklin, Community Living Ontario