In February of this year, CFY proudly hosted our Coldest Night of the Year event to help raise awareness and funds in support of folks who are struggling with stable housing and facing homelessness. Over 300 individuals and families came out in a show of force; volunteers, staff, board members and youth joined in, and together we raised $47,211 while demonstrating the good will and our collective belief that everyone deserves to feel safe, to feel connected to community, and to be given the opportunity to thrive. There was much to be grateful for and proud of that day, however there was a specific moment that, to me that reaffirmed our organizational commitment to social justice.
The morning of the walk, it came to our attention that a member of the Yellow Vest group in St. John’s was planning on attending the event and representing their group.
The Yellow Vest movement in Canada is completely at odds with our values at CFY, and the xenophobic approach of many Canadian Yellow Vest groups is not something that we stand for. Our team acted swiftly and publicly announced that CFY does not support the Yellow Vest group, and that we would donate any funds raised by the individual to the Association for New Canadians. In the end, the individual never showed up and did not raise any money for the walk.
When it's Official, it's Easy Importantly, our decision to publicly state our position and distance ourselves from the Yellow Vest group was organic and automatic, and rooted in an explicit and organization-wide commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice. At a basic level, this starts with our Inclusion Statement, which says:
Choices for Youth strives to be a model for diversity and inclusion, and our Board Members, staff, volunteers, and program participants reflect the many faces, cultures, identities, abilities, and walks of life that make up our province. We are a learning-centered organization that values the perspectives and contributions of all people, and strive to incorporate the needs and values of diverse communities into the design and implementation of inclusive programs.
We respect, value, celebrate, and welcome racialized people, all sexual orientations, women and trans* people, Aboriginal and First People, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, and those from all social strata.
We identify as allies with:
The feminist community
The LGBTQ2S* community
The Indigenous community
The disabilities community
The movement to end racism
The movement to end violence against women
The movement to protect religious freedom
The movement to end poverty
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, including Housing as a Human Right
This Inclusion Statement is both an extension of, and helps inform the way we practice, Harm Reduction, Housing First for Youth, Trauma-Informed and Recovery-Oriented principles. The statement is not perfect and consequently it is not static. Community feedback, the young people we work with, and the world around us requires that we remain reflective and open to adjusting this statement as we grow and continue our learning.
Over the last couple of years at CFY, there has been a focus on learning and exploring ways to implement our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice throughout the organization. Creating visible signs of our commitment, checking our language and words that we use in practice and in our communications, broadening the circle of voices that influence our work, helping youth update their ID to better reflect their identity, and building new partnerships are important ways that we are doing this work.
I am proud to say that we are currently planning for a Diversity and Inclusion Assessment of our organization to help inform ideas and future policies at CFY. We also work closely with the Association for New Canadians to support young people accessing our services, and in our efforts to expand our programs across the province we are doing our best to be active listeners and thoughtful partners.
Why it Matters
When I think about why this matters, I think about you – the person reading this post; I think about me – a person of colour from a Muslim family; I think about the families and young people we work with – many of whom are stigmatized and marginalized; I think about the disproportionate and alarming rates of homelessness amongst LGBTQ2S* and Indigenous youth; I think about the incredible women who’ve been leading the work in housing and homelessness sector for decades; I think about all the new Canadians calling Newfoundland and Labrador home; I think about the old adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats”; and I think about our responsibility as a service provider and employer.
I also think about how supporting diversity and inclusion is not just a nice thing to do - Diversity and inclusion is good for business. It results in better-informed decision-making, in the broader participation of different demographics within the labour market, higher rates of educational success, and new avenues to learn from one another. A diverse and inclusive organization is more flexible, more versatile, and better equipped to adapt to changes and challenges.
As an organization committed to supporting youth and emerging adults who are often marginalized, our commitment to social justice, diversity and inclusion are implicit aspects of how we work. Getting it right, however, is something that requires daily thought and a staff-wide commitment to living these values. We are constantly reflecting and are often revising policies, rethinking processes, and questioning our own assumptions and traditions to ensure that we are being truly inclusive. By taking it on together, we can work towards creating communities and systems that work for and represent everyone.
Ayon Shahed is the Acting Executive Director and Director of Strategic Development at Choices for Youth.