This, I promise you: I’m committed

This, I promise you: I’m committed

I would not be who I am today if it were not for my 2 older sisters. They were among my first ‘real’ teachers. They made me aware of the power that education possesses in effecting change. As a child I struggled to read, write and be an individual. It was hard being the eccentric kid, who danced around the school yard or only wanted to play pretend instead of playing basketball in gym class. But my sisters and the many other women in my life, whom I regard as the greatest mentors any young boy could ever have, provided me with an unrelenting amount of encouragement and support. Today, I am a professional dance-theater artist and artist educator because of those women. I can only hope that I can be for others, what they have been for me.

My name is Keith Macfarlane and I am a Teacher Candidate from Queen’s University, in the Artist in Community Education program, currently placed at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute. The news of Malala Yousafzai’s shooting opened up a dialogue at my associate school that resulted in a meaningful, awareness raising week about violence against women and gender-based violence, for our school community. The week was framed within the 16 days of activism that began on November 25th and ended on International Human Rights Day. What was the vision? To empower and equip students with the ability to recognize violence, prevent it and take action within their school and community at large, to end it.

We initiated the activism by placing facts/statistics all around the school about different forms violence that affect women in Canada and globally. We also initiated an editorial and poetry writing contest. All submissions were to be published in a special school anthology. The writing contests called for students to write about specific stories of violence pertaining to physical/emotional violence, institutionalized violence, and financial violence. Our goal was to give a voice to those who wanted to speak out in a creative way. Even our faculty submitted work, we never expected the staff to have a compelling desire to be heard. The week of activism revealed a beautiful ignition of a true collective spirit in the entire school community for one humanitarian cause. Teachers became students and the students, teachers.

In the following week, we organized a guest theatre and dance workshops, inspirational announcements, lunch time video discussions and a community organization fair. The theatre workshop utilized ‘story-weaving principles and techniques’ developed by the Spiderwoman Theater Company in New York City. The workshop was called, Women in Schools: Weaving Student Perceptions of Violence. The workshop brought out intense emotions. Towards the end of the workshop there was a “scary, heavy feeling” in the room, as one student mentioned. Drawing on Augusto Boal’s principles as well, we brought awareness to the spirit of oppression and in doing so, the need to let it go from our hearts. An intense and empowering dialogue between participants ensued. Participants left the workshop knowing that they had the power to stop violence by breaking the cycle.

In addition to this, guest dance artist and former Miss West Africa Canada, Nina Erhabor, delivered a special workshop called: Women in Hip-Hop: Empowering Women through Dance and Movement. This workshop brought laughter and joy to each student, both male and female participants, as they expressed their inner ‘phenomenal woman’ during a spoken-word hip-hop dance routine. Students were invigorated by the power and strength of female hip-hop role models who challenge their conventions and stereotypes in music, dance and daily life. Both arts based workshops attempted to explore the affective nature of violence against women and enhance student’s empathy and their awareness of shared experiences or perceptions of dealing with violence against women.

The student council also organized a white ribbon campaign that week, where students purchased white ribbons and took the pledge to never participate in or condone acts of violence against women. All proceeds went to the December 6th fund that provided interest free loans to women escaping domestic violence. This gave students the chance to send a powerful message to their peers. The students, who wore the ribbons, spoke in ways that I believe were more powerful than words. Through the symbol of the white ribbon, they spoke in the language of solidarity.

When we first started, our goal was just to get students to…’ talk about it’. We believed that through awareness change was inevitable. While the formality of our activism week ended on Monday December 10th, the ideas and insights brought into the school during that time have left a long lasting impact on us all. With connections to local organizations, women’s leadership groups are an inevitable outcome for this school. In addition to this, teachers and other faculty have responded by expressing an interest to extend the reach of the discussion into other areas.

While, I feel like we have accomplished a lot, I still recognize how much more there is to do. I feel, however, ever more committed and engaged with this cause. I hope to continue to bring awareness to the subject and invoke change as I continue to pursue my career in education.  Together, we can bring peace to systemic conflict. For the women at this school, I hope students and staff will continue with their commitment to ending violence against women. For the women in your life, I hope you will commit to the campaign to eliminate violence against women in your community. To the women in my life, I promise you that I am and forever will be committed.

Keith MacFarlane

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