How we can all build bridges over bigotry Our individual behaviour is what really causes change
“Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other” — Tim Robbins
BridgesNotWalls is a welcomed hashtag in what seems to be a time of amplified divisiveness. I followed it to a UK group called Bridges Not Walls. On president Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, from the other side of the Atlantic, this group draped over 150 banners on UK bridges. With the new U.S. president’s agenda hell bent on destroying the progressive gains that have been made concerning civil, gender and environmental rights — gains that far too many have bled and died for — their message of ‘solidarity and common humanity’ was a direct challenge.
According to Bridges Not Walls, what’s shaking things up is more than Mr. Trump; mainstream media and establishment politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are helping to create a new normal, where bigotry becomes acceptable as an everyday part of life.
And while Trumpism may be emboldening the mean and the ugly, there’s a silver lining; the awakening of those of us who are in denial or who are complacent about longstanding hateful, harmful attitudes experienced by certain groups of people. Ain’t no new thing (Gil Scott-Heron). Now, many more people are waking up and sniffing the air around them, and it’s not invigorating wafts of coffee brewing.
To me, the idea of BridgesNotWalls symbolizes hope. It suggests opportunities. It offers direction and, most of all it gives me a concrete image that I can apply in working for social good. It represents friendship and a reaching out across the way. And we need a whole lot of that. Everyone needs a bridge, and everyone can be a bridge.
Sharing messages on banners, marching together as in the multitudinous worldwide rallies in support of the Women’s March on Washington that took place on the 21st of this month, are some ways that people are showing solidarity and building bridges of support across causes. But you don’t have to belong to a group to act. You can be a one-person show. I know someone who does just that, on her own stretch of a busy neighbourhood road. It’s as simple as extending kindness.
Patricia Czayka is a crossing guard at York Boulevard and Caroline Street. Her bright blue eyes, her cheery face and warm smile is beloved by the many newcomer families that she crosses over the busy street to the local school. A grandmother of one boy, Patricia takes the time to greet every child (she knows all the kids’ names) and talk to each and every one of them, parents too! She’s been at the job (“her reason to get out of bed”) for almost 10 years. What does she get out of it? “The hugs from the kids, the high-fives!” Pat says. “It’s most rewarding.”
The majority of kids that cross over the road to school every day are coming from troubled countries. These children are our future doctors, artists, computer scientists and so on. They are citizens in the making. Helping them feel welcome is Patricia’s contribution toward that future.
Patricia calls herself a “lover of life.” She says, “I open up to new people, and they open up to me.” She enjoys meeting people from every nationality. “I learn about their ways of life, I try to get to know all the different customs.” Pat takes pride in sharing “Canadian ways” and explaining things to them, such as navigating around snow. In return, she gets to taste delicious foods that the parents make and bring her; tasty cuisine from places like Jamaica, Japan, Ethiopia, Syria, Poland and Greece.
You can be a one-person show. I know someone who does just that … It’s as simple as extending kindness.
Inspiring generosity of spirit as being the norm, rather than bigotry, suspicion and fear of our neighbours, the bottom line for Pat is trust and respect. “I treat people with respect; that’s how I want to be treated.”
Actions like Patricia’s are small ways to large impacts; it’s about taking people seriously and listening well (for example, many of the people Patricia talks to are unable to speak English yet, but are eager to communicate).
In the caring and protecting of one another, we are not only guarding against intolerance, we are also building healthy, more engaged communities for a stronger country.
Beatrice Ekoko is a freelance writer based in Hamilton
Peaceful protesters in New York City: We can all do our part to set a good example and set a trend, whether in groups or as individuals, writes Beatrice Ekoko.