it takes a village As
June Girvan cradled her newborn daughter in an Ottawa hospital many years ago, a stranger approached her bedside and made a cruel racial comment. “In that moment,” says the noted Jamaican-born, human rights crusader and mother of three, “I realized that to my job description of ‘mother’ I would have to add ‘social activist.’”
And that’s just what she did, dedicating the past fifty years of her life to making a difference for Ottawa’s children.
Girvan’s commitment to children’s issues took root during her own childhood, after her father died when she was only seven years old. What could have been a devastating blow turned into a life-altering lesson in devotion when her entire family stepped in to offer protection, love and care. “The experience of being raised by a loving inter-generational ‘team’ is the basis of my thinking that every child is sacred,” notes Girvan about her initiative of the same name that works towards building a child-friendly city, community and nation. The website is everychildissacred.org.
Girvan believes in a golden rule that sees adults treat children “in ways that we appreciated being treated when we were children, or would like to have been treated.” It’s a simple, almost self-evident message, but one that has the power to transform relationships between adults and children.
Girvan’s current passion is to have Ottawa designated a “Child-Friendly City” by UNICEF, which would see children’s needs and rights reflected in all city decisions. Already, Mayor Larry O’Brien has signed on as “the Children’s Mayor,” and Girvan’s mission is to encourage citizens to get their councilors to vote for the Child-Friendly initiative too. “My dream is to have a sign saying “Welcome to Ottawa – A UNICEF Child-Friendly City,” she notes with resolve.
And while Girvan’s commitment is to children, she champions many issues that she hopes will make our community better, and supports anyone trying to make positive social change in Ottawa. Says Sarah Onyango, who sits on the board of Black History Ottawa with Girvan: “June is a former educator, a scholar of history, a community organizer and a beacon for intercultural understanding who is truly committed to creating a just and harmonious society for all.”
June Girvan’s first-hand experience has taught her that it takes a village to raise a child. But sometimes that village needs a little encouragement, and she’s made it her calling in life to offer it.
Catherine Clark is the host of Beyond Politics on CPAC.