Winnipeg's inner city challenges suburbs to build community

When Winnipeg was labelled the most racist city in Canada, it provided an opportunity for our city to sink or swim.

Racism exists in Winnipeg, like a sickness of the mind and of the heart, but something can be done

Michael Redhead Champagne believes the only way to fix racism is to know your neighbor and communicate with them because once you learn to love them, the time you spend together can heal the old wounds. (Michael Redhead Champagne/@northendmc /Twitter)

When Winnipeg was labelled the most racist city in Canada, it provided an opportunity for our city to sink or swim.

It was like we were given a black eye, or some type of injury that made it hard to move forward. Many people took a deficit-based approach and began to pay attention to all of the racism that truly does exist in our communities.

Some denied, and others acted positively and constructively. Some acted out of anger, and some even reinforced the message with increased expressions of racism.

Regardless of reactions, I don't think any of us can deny that racism does indeed exist in many places in Winnipeg, like a sickness of the mind and of the heart.

I cannot speak for the rest of the city, but Winnipeg's inner city neighbourhoods have not taken that label without first demonstrating through our actions that we do indeed know what it means to overcome ignorance and racism in our own backyards.

'Coming together' event

On Friday, Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO!), Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), Spence Neighbourhood Association, William Whyte Resident Association Newcomer Settlement Program, the Indigenous Family Centre and the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg invite people to a coming together of Indigenous and newcomer communities in Winnipeg.

Meet Me at the Bell Tower is a weekly event that has been going on for three and a half years every Friday on Selkirk Avenue at the North End bell tower and Indigenous Family Centre, inviting community members to come forward and share their examples of hope and peace to combat the negativity and violence we experience in our city.

Since January we have participated in many events and activities that have provided positive space to overcome our shared challenge. The 1,000-plus person START march in February at the legislative building was the beginning.

Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis rings the bell at the tower during one of the Meet Me at the Bell Tower gatherings. (Meet Me at the Bell Tower/Facebook)
START stands for Students United Together Against Racism and the high school organizers wanted to demonstrate leadership involving more than three school divisions, and approximately 20 schools. Two Race to Peace events organized by Rosanna Deerchild and attended by Maclean's own Nancy Macdonald were held downtown and in the North End to continue the dialogue on solutions.

A 60-plus person gathering earlier this summer called "Meet Me at the Bell Tower Welcomes the Filipino community" allowed us to learn more about Filipino culture, cuisine and language. We are honoured to have connected with other indigenous youth leaders profiled in the "It could have been me" article in the summer also from Maclean's/Nancy Macdonald.

The Smudge the Streets initiative brought together West Enders of all nations, businesses and community groups last month to further bring healing to our relatives on the street who need it most.

Finally, the Winnipeg police chief met with inner city residents twice: first at a "100 Basketballs" community event where he and the police team played a basketball game against the AYO All Stars team (which featured Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief) in the springtime, and then at Meet Me at the Bell Tower earlier this month.

What I'm trying to get at is Winnipeg's inner city has not been waiting.

If you want to connect with the indigenous youth leaders and primarily North End resident-led activities, for three and a half years, Fridays at 6 p.m. at the North End bell tower has been the place where you will find us.

I'd like to also acknowledge Got Bannock which happens every second Sunday at the Corner of Dufferin and Main at 3 p.m., as well as the Bell Tower Community Café at Westminster Church that goes down every second Friday, aiming to build community, fight hunger and celebrate the good.

Other neighbourhoods have begun to wake up and we hope that this can continue.

Make the positive louder than the negative

I would love to connect with a weekly open gathering in other neighbourhoods of the city, too. You don't need to have a bell tower (though it is pretty fun). All you need is a committed group of core volunteers who will make themselves available weekly, some social media savvy, and a location, preferably outside or free to gather in.

Once you have those three things you can begin inviting your friends and community members in person, online and everywhere.

The trick is to talk about it incessantly. For example, I am writing this to invite you to our event at tonight's Meet Me at the Bell Tower but also to challenge other neighbourhoods that are out of the inner city — to celebrate the good in their neighbourhoods and invite their neighbours and the rest of the city to get to know one another.

Celebrate the good. Share food, stories and laughter with one another. It doesn't have to cost you anything. Build your own narrative, make it a strength-based one where the positive is louder than the negative.

When we spend time with people we love we are doctoring them. When we get to know the gifts of, celebrate and share with our neighbours, we learn to see the good in them, and dare I say love them.

I am not denying that racism exists, but it's a sickness of the mind and heart.

The only way to fix it is to know your neighbor, communicate, and once you learn to love them, the time you spend together can heal the old wounds.

They can label us all they want but we know that we have found a solution.

We need you to lead by example in your community to create a solution of your own. If you want to see it in action, meet me at the bell tower.

Michael Redhead Champagne is a founder/organizer with AYO! Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, the youth group that leads weekly peace gatherings on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg. "Meet Me at the Bell Tower Welcomes the Newcomer Community" happens at 470 Selkirk Ave. on Aug 14 at 6 p.m.


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