Meet Me at the Bell Tower welcomes local immigrant community

An initiative that aims to end violence in Winnipeg's North End welcomed newcomers to Canada into the fold Friday night, at a meeting that organizers hope will "break stereotypes."

Weekly gathering in Winnipeg's North End invites newcomers to 'break stereotypes'

The weekly Meet Me at the Bell Tower gathering on Winnipeg's Selkirk Avenue on Friday evening. (CBC)

An initiative that aims to end violence in Winnipeg's North End welcomed newcomers to Canada into the fold Friday night, at a meeting that organizers hope will "break stereotypes."

Meet Me at the Bell Tower started in the fall of 2011. The gathering, led by Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO), brings people from the neighbourhood together for a weekly meeting in the area of Selkirk Avenue and Powers Street.

This week, organizers extended an invitation to the city's immigrant population to participate.

"We probably have, like, over 100 people easily," said Lenard Monkman, an organizer with AYO.

"We're usually used to having just regulars here, and today has been overwhelming in terms of how many people we were able to get out here."

Mandela Kuet, a member of Winnipeg's South Sudanese community, said he was excited to take part because immigrants have a lot in common with Canada's indigenous community.

"We were very passionate about being youth leaders and being active in our community and advocating for our rights and the rights of young people," said Kuet.

One of the several people who rang the bell at Meet Me at the Bell Tower on Friday evening. (CBC)
"[We want] to make sure our stories are heard through our lenses and so that other people can see where we are coming from."

Kuet said his first impression of Winnipeg was that it, and Canada in general, was safe.

"I had a lot of access to things that I couldn't have before," said Kuet, adding the Friday night meeting provides immigrants further incentive to immerse themselves in the community. 

"It's a good chance to build relationships, to create dialogue and partnerships and get young people to come together to work together and to understand one another."

Challenging stereotypes

Monkman said he is looking forward to getting to know Kuet, his neighbour, better.

"We both live in the same hood," said Monkman. "I grew up in the North End and he grew up very much in the North End.... Just really never having that opportunity to connect with each other; it's a great chance to be able to get together."

Monkman said the meeting is also about challenging harmful or misleading attitudes about indigenous and immigrant populations.

"If [immigrants] could come to the city, I always say Meet Me at the Bell Tower is the best place to meet, to break stereotypes," said Monkman.

"We want people to know that there are people out here [who] care about the city, [who] care about race relations. We are going to live together; there is going to continue to be immigration and it's important for us to work together."

Food and music from indigenous and Sudanese cultures were offered at the gathering, which began at 6 p.m.


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