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An open letter on the value of diversity in our communities

By Vancouver Foundation CEO Kevin McCort & Fresh Voices Youth Advisor Golsa Golestaneh

Vancouver Foundation CEO Kevin McCort

As the world seemed to change overnight – becoming smaller, more exclusionary, less generous in word and deed – I couldn’t help but reflect on Vancouver Foundation’s vision of “healthy, vibrant, and livable communities.”

Can a community be livable, but not healthy in the diversity of experience? Vibrant, without connection? Thriving, but isolated from difference?

In a word, “no.” We know these characteristics are as interwoven as the people who inhabit our towns and cities, rural areas and villages. The creation of healthy, vibrant and livable communities are not the actions of a homogenous few. Rather, they are strengthened by the many who arrive and are welcomed, as we all once were, when Indigenous people first shared these lands and their traditions.

By their very mandates and existence, Canada’s community foundations are committed to belonging and inclusion. We deeply believe in the power of reconciliation and pluralism. But as isolationist tensions mount globally and cultural differences are amplified, we need to ask ourselves: are we making progress or losing ground?

We believe the value of diversity and multiculturalism is strong and positive in Canada, but requires the vigilance of all Canadians.

It’s a question we cannot shy away from. Here, in Metro Vancouver, we know there are many great people, agencies and organizations working hard and long to support immigrants and refugees.  Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques unite in this cause. The business and corporate sector joins forces with non-profits and charities. Private sponsors eagerly extend the work and mandate of government.

In our own case, Vancouver Foundation has invested in the leadership and learning of young immigrants and refugees through its Fresh Voices initiative.  We work with these young people from across B.C. to engage in dialogue and action to identify and remove barriers to their success. And we are continually inspired by their courage and commitment to their new country.

None of this we take for granted.

Which is why the tenor, tone and recent actions that push back on pluralism are so troubling. We believe the value of diversity and multiculturalism is strong and positive in Canada, but requires the vigilance of all Canadians. We are optimistic, but not naïve.

Vancouver Foundation wants to support a dialogue that is inclusive, intelligent and informed. That dialogue starts here. What is the role of community foundations in a pluralistic society? How are healthy, vibrant and livable communities linked to the perspectives we hold as Canadians on immigration and refugees? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead?

We’d like to know what you think and what can be done to ensure we live in a healthy, vibrant and livable community – locally, nationally and globally.

Write us at: info@vancouverfoundation.ca

Kevin McCort
President and CEO Vancouver Foundation

 

Fresh Voices Youth Advisory Team member, Golsa Golestaneh

The events of the last 72 hours have shocked the world. People are in despair, feeling helpless and outraged. But that has been the reality for me and my family for thirteen years. My family and I came to Vancouver as refugees from Iran, two years ago, when I was 17. I feel fortunate to be welcomed onto unceded Coast Salish Territories by Indigenous people, despite the settler-colonial history. We have permanent resident status but we are not yet Canadian citizens.

What happened on Saturday January 28th with the U.S immigration ban against 7 countries directly affects me, even though I live in B.C – in Canada. There was a lot of confusing information that made any hopes of ever visiting my home country seem impossible.

I am not a burden. I am not a threat. My experience as a refugee is a valuable contribution in creating healthy, vibrant and livable communities for all Canadians.

If I happened to be traveling on that day and had to connect through USA for a flight to get back to Vancouver, I would have been caught up in this nightmare: “vetted,” detained, or forced to be re-routed elsewhere with no way of knowing if I could make it back.

What is the role of community foundations in creating healthy, vibrant livable communities for young people like me who are refugees? Vancouver Foundation has used its influence and abilities to support settlement organizations and youth programs that I participated in when I first arrived in Canada.

But the time and resources that Vancouver Foundation has provided to immigrant and refugee youth like myself through the Fresh Voices initiative, to support our movement, voices and ability to create change, is truly what makes B.C and Canada a better place for me, my family and all immigrants and refugees.

That is progress. For me, being a part of the Fresh Voices Youth Advisory Team means that, regardless of political administrations and circumstances, I am empowered to address the struggles and realities of refugee communities.

I am not a burden. I am not a threat. My experience as a refugee is a valuable contribution in creating healthy, vibrant and liveable communities for all Canadians, regardless of immigration status and citizenship.

To find out more about Fresh Voices, please visit our website: freshvoices.ca 

Golsa Golestaneh
Fresh Voices Youth Advisory Team

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