Their message is simple – All are welcome in the Forest City.
Under a program of that same name, a desire to amplify that message has brought together a number of local groups and organizations – including the International Student Centre, Equity and Human Rights Office and Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations, all of Western.
“Some segments of our community do experience discrimination. But if you don’t see it, and therefore don’t experience it, you may think all is fine. People don’t realize it does happen,” explained Victoria Esses, a Western Psychology professor and Director of the Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations. “The idea was to have a community campaign to combat discrimination.”
Led by London & Middlesex Local Immigration, the All Are Welcome initiative started with a thousand simple yard signs across the city proclaiming just that – all are welcome. Now, the physical reminders have gone digital with the recent launch of the 1,000 Acts of Welcome website, 1000actsofwelcome.ca.
On the site, Londoners can log the ‘acts of welcome’ they have performed or experienced. It can be almost any positive act – from helping someone with directions and sharing tips on surviving a Canadian winter to explaining bus routes or providing information on local schools for their children.
London’s reputation has taken a number of blows in recent years – from high-profile incidents like a banana-throwing directed at a black NHL player on the ice at Budweiser Gardens to racial slurs tossed at two black Grand Theatre actors on the street, to everyday incidents of unprovoked verbal and physical attacks of visible minorities.
A recent community event echoed many of these trials when new immigrants and refugees to London gathered to share their experiences on being new to the city. It did not shine a positive light on London.
Next steps must be able making change, Esses said. People often observe these incidents and don’t know what to do or whether they should intervene.
“We need to know what those interventions could look like so it becomes easier for us to act on them. Doing something rather than doing nothing,” Esses said. “When we talk about these everyday experiences of racism and discrimination, they don’t have to be huge acts like someone attacking or hitting someone. They can be minor. Yet, over time, they build up and can really wear people down. So these little acts of kindness, or welcoming, can make a huge difference.”
While Esses believes things are trending toward a more welcoming environment in London, there is still work to do.
“Things have changed. London was less open to diversity and immigrants. But we’re becoming aware we need to act,” said Esses, Principal Investigator of the Pathways to Prosperity Partnership, a national alliance of university, community and government partners dedicated to fostering welcoming communities and promoting the integration of migrants and minorities across Canada.
“It benefits us all to have diversity in the workplace, to have immigrants coming to our city and providing their skills. We need them. Suddenly, it’s not me doing them a favour, but them benefiting us, too.
“Immigrants come in with a lot of skills and are often not recognized. Their skills are devalued and they can’t use them. They are paid less, not promoted within organizations as fast. Within organization, perhaps, we need people to be more inter-culturally confident and to be aware of all the benefits of immigrants are bringing to us.”
The Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations is sponsoring the 10th annual Life as a Refugee Conference ‘All of Welcome Here’ on June 20 at the Four Points by Sheraton in London. Workshops will focus on welcoming and inclusive communities, including economic integration and resettlement educational supports. Claire Roque, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees, is the keynote speaker
“They are grateful for what we’ve done as a community, but we also need to be grateful for what they can contribute,” Esses said. “Looking at their resilience and how they make a new life, it’s not simple.”