How we can all build bridges over big­otry Our in­di­vid­ual be­hav­iour is what re­ally causes change

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - BEATRICE EKOKO

“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

MUHAMMED MUHEISEN, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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