The Abbotsford Community Services Diversity Education program has led anti-racism community development in a myriad of ways in 2013–2014 in the cities of Abbotsford and Langley, on Stó:lō First Nation territory in British Columbia.
One highlight was the collaboration between community developers and nursing students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University on a project that combined holistic health theory with anti-racism practice. Together they hosted an Open Mic Night in March 2014, in which residents of different backgrounds came together in open dialogue for poetry, music and film.
The Diversity Education program convenes the Fraser Valley Human Dignity Coalition, a local citizens group that has supported victims of discrimination and proactively promoted equity for over 15 years. Staff members engage dozens of organizations and partners in public education, awareness activities and workshops, provide consultation to planning tables, and coordinate and support many events, cultural celebrations and youth initiatives.
A commitment to social justice. The Diversity Education program at Abbotsford Community Services has a long history of cross-cultural, diversity and human rights educational and awareness initiatives.
The Diversity Education program received funding in 1999 through National Crime Prevention to establish a community response team against hate and discrimination. The team, comprised of community members and key stakeholders, was named the Fraser Valley Human Dignity Coalition. In the pursuit of social justice and equity, the coalition has continued to be an independent citizen's voice to promote the values of human rights and dignity, and a safe and healthy community for all. This has been a foundation for the ongoing anti-racism community development undertaken by Abbotsford Community Services.
The Coalition's main goals are also to bring community awareness to incidents of discrimination and hate crimes, respond to issues and concerns related to human dignity in the community, and bring awareness to resources available to victims of hate-motivated crime and discrimination.
As a coalition of community partners, members believe that every person has the right to be treated with dignity, respect, fairness and compassion. The Coalition's underlying premise is that all members of the human family live without fear of discrimination, intimidation or violence due to race, ethnicity, class, gender, family status, sexual orientation, religion, mental and physical ability, age, political belief or any other identifying factor.
The Diversity Education program coordinates community development and educational projects that respond to discrimination and promote diversity awareness and respect for all. Programming is related to cross-cultural understanding, inter-faith and multi- faith bridging, anti-racism and accessibility. In addition to project-based work, Diversity Education responds to needs in the community, including general public education and meeting requests for workshops and training.
Organizing Against Racism and Hate is a network between Abbotsford, Langley and Hope. It is supported by the provincial government, with several communities involved in responding to racism, discrimination and hate across BC. This project also supports the ongoing work of the Fraser Valley Human Dignity Coalition.
Welcoming Communities is a series of multiple activities designed to increase accessibility for new immigrants to Abbotsford. Major pieces of the project include: completing a community asset report, convening community partners to collectively work on identified goals, partnering with the disability and settlement service sectors, and other special events.
Public education includes managing the creation of an innovative web-based tool to address hate crime in BC. Goals are to increase reporting by victims and witnesses and to increase the amount of police requests for training on hate crimes. Managing the development of this online tool involves working with the provincial contract manager, other community partners across the province, and police representatives. It also involves overseeing a marketing campaign, and analyzing and reporting on its effectiveness.
World Interfaith Harmony Week involves outreach to faith and community groups and all aspects of large-scale event planning.
Bridges of Faith is a project that brings together community members from diverse faith groups to plan and facilitate events that highlight the spiritual and cultural practices of different cultural and religious milestones in the fall, winter and spring.
Abbotsford is the third most ethnically diverse city in Canada, with a population of only 140,000 people, yet its communities are isolated. It has a distinctive majority faith-affiliated community, compared to the national trend of a decline in religion, and in recent years has faced interfaith tension and incidents of discrimination related to division, isolation and marginalization of its many diverse faith and ethnic groups.
Making a Difference
Abbotsford Community Services is a non-profit organization with a longstanding commitment to diversity, social justice and the promotion of equity for all people. Its Diversity Education program achieved much success with anti-racism community development over the past year.
In addition to the projects already outlined, Abbotsford Community Services provided consultation to two community planning tables, and coordinated and supported six other community events, including cultural celebrations, youth initiatives and a rally against the sexual exploitation of racialized girls. This is part of its philosophy of empowerment and capacity-building among local residents, so that anyone can learn skills to actively take a stand against inequity, and be an advocate for racial justice and a leader in dialogue and conflict resolution.
Vision for the Future
Expanding its digital footprint. Making information accessible is synonymous with making it available online and easy to find using familiar technology. Abbotsford Community Services plans to increase its in-person networks and include participants in creating, sharing and posting content online, and distributing it electronically. Despite the challenges, allowing digital access to all resources and information related to local community development, demographic diversity and race relations is crucial for the community to be able to continue the work. This is already starting to happen; for example, the newest version of the Responding to Discrimination and Hate: Abbotsford Community Protocol is uploaded to local websites and has been e-distributed. Though digital access does not replace in-person contact and outreach, the use of technology is a fitting way to document stories and distribute resources that are meant to be shared.
About Abbotsford Community Services
Abbotsford Community Services provides social services to almost 40,000 people of all ages and backgrounds every year. It has been operating for 45 years with multiple divisions and more than 350 employees. It offers youth and family support and services, addiction and recovery services, victim services and counselling, senior support, employment programs, immigrant settlement and integration, as well as the city-wide Food Bank and the region's Recycling Depot. Its mission and vision is to be an agency that fosters community well-being and social justice through positive action and leadership.
Best Practice Contact
Danica Denomme, Coordinator
Abbotsford Community Services
2420 Montrose Ave.
Abbotsford, BC V2S 3S9