Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Getting Animated About McCauley

Group Shot
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
From September to the end of December 2010, I was contracted by Action for Healthy Communities (AHC) as a Community Animator in McCauley. AHC is a non-profit organization that supports community development by equipping community members to develop Community Initiatives. Through this process, leadership and capacity amongst community members is developed, leading to initiatives that enhance the overall health of the community.

My role as a Community Animator included working directly with a small group of community members to develop initiatives; serve as a facilitator to connect people with resources and information; and, to foster discussions and dialogues about issues of concern.

The first month of my contract was spent mostly doing research and fact-finding, including meeting with several community members individually as well as Jane Molstad, McCauley’s Revitalization Coordinator. An email list was established as an easy way to send out announcements and gather information. As well, a Facebook page for McCauley Community Animation was created also to disseminate information and act as a discussion forum.

Early in October, myself and two other representatives from AHC met with three community members: Gary Garrison, Wendy Aasen, and Anna Bubel. The purpose of this community dialogue was to identify areas of concern for residents, discuss possible initiatives, and clarify AHC’s role in the process.

One of the first initiatives stemmed from conversations I had with Gary Garrison, who was looking to organize a coffeehouse that would connect artists, writers, poets, and musicians. The challenges were the general organization of the event and finding a suitable space. A preliminary meeting using the Boyle McCauley News office was not successful. However, after connecting community members with Revitalization as well as people involved with the Heart of the City Festival, the first McCauley Connect Coffeehouse was born.

The McCauley Connect Coffeehouse took place on December 4 at McCauley Centre (formerly McCauley School). The evening featured live music performances on a professional sound stage, beautifully decorated tables with a winter theme, and free snacks courtesy of Multicultural Health Brokers. Gary Garrison served as MC. It was a modest start of what will hopefully be more coffeehouses in the future. In fact, two more are scheduled for February 19 and March 19, with the tentative location of the school. The long-term goal is for a permanent facility for artists to mingle over coffee, have live performances, and showcase their work akin to The Carrot on Alberta Avenue.

The other initiative stems from the fact that Church Street was recently designated a historical resource by the City. What better way to celebrate than having a street dance and moveable feast/potluck along 96 Street. Colleen Chapman (BMC News' other Volunteer Coordinator) is organizing this event which is tentatively anticipated to take place in July. She already has several of the major churches on board and a DJ for the dance. If you are interested in helping out, you can contact Colleen care of the paper.

All of the Community Animators with AHC periodically met together as a group. At our final meeting, we discussed what we learned the most personally from our experience as Community Animators. I said that my knowledge was reinforced of how much capacity, ideas, and talent there is in McCauley. I also said that I did my very best to actually listen to what people were telling me and do the best I could to answer people's questions and take seriously their concerns, even if there was nothing I could immediately do about these particular issues or requests. This is the kind of respect McCauley needs from all parties who do consultations and development activities in the community, otherwise it just becomes a top-down, empty exercise.

Being a Community Animator was also a great networking opportunity for my work with Boyle McCauley News. I met Clara Gladue, another Animator in McCauley, who now writes the Aboriginal-themes column Drum Beats. I also met an Animator from the local Salvadoran community who lives in Boyle Street, who may also be interested in contributing to the paper.

My contract ended at the end of December, but obviously the initiatives and discussions that got rolling during my time as Community Animator will continue. I will still occasionally send out notices of news and events via the email list, so if you would like to get on that you can send me your email address at editor@bmcnews.org. As well, the Facebook page is going to remain online.

I want to thank everyone who took part in the animation process, whether it was providing feedback online, taking part in one of our initiatives, or just providing encouraging words.

Part Two: Seeking McCauley Balance

A dialogue with a community member raised the following questions that she felt had never been addressed as a neighbourhood. These questions were presented online and answers are being gathered and organized for information and interest. If you would like to take part, please send your responses care of the paper to editor@bmcnews.org.

McCauley needs to strive for balance, especially a balance of the things that are important to people in the area, such as less concentration of social housing, a better spread of demographics, and the improvement of safety issues.

1) What does balance in McCauley look like?

2) What would have to change in order for us to get there? It would be interesting to see the points of agreement and disagreement, and to see what the variance is depending on how long someone has lived here.

3) What is “McCauley normal” (as compared to “normal” for other areas)?

4) There needs to be indicators of positive change and a way keep track of such information. What is the current direction of change in McCauley and is it the change we want?

5) We also need to gather success stories. Can you tell a success story from your McCauley experience?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Time Again

Christmas has come and gone for another year. Like I do annually, there were a few holiday-themed events I attended.

As I was on my way to another event in McCauley, I noticed some reindeer outside of The Mustard Seed. Then, Santa appeared. Of course, I had to stop and take some photos. I wish the event had been better publicized - there really weren't that many people around.

The event I was heading to was the first Winter World Market held at McCauley Centre (the former school) and featured vendors from a variety of cultures as well as ethnic performances. The gym was quite full - again, it would have been great for more people to be there, but the first time for any event always has its challenges. Here are some photos.

Another first-time event I attended was the Bethlehem Walk, presented by West End Christian Assembly. It was an incredible performance recreation of Bethlehem in Biblical times, complete with period costumes and interactive displays. Take a look and you will see what I mean.

On our way back from the Bethlehem Walk, I made my annual visit to Candy Cane Lane. While not as shining and bright as in years past, there were a few new and original displays and most of the houses along the route put out at least some lights. Check it out.

My personal favourite Christmas event if the annual Nativity Display at West End Christian Reformed Church. Over 500 Nativity scenes from around the world are presented. I look at it like art, with so many different styles and mediums are used to communicate the birth of Jesus. Here are photos of a selection of Nativity scenes.

Finally, it was not a Christmas event as such, but just before the holidays the annual McCauley Cup took place at the skating rink in the McCauley neighbourhood. Members of the Edmonton Police play a hockey game against community members, mostly young people, and there is a hot dog roast. This is a wonderful opportunity for the police to be out and about in the community, in a very different role than usual. I made it to my first McCauley Cup this year and the game looked like a lot of fun! Here are some photos.

On a personal note, I have been spending part of the holidays doing an extensive cleanse and purge of my living space. I honestly do not remember the last time I have boxed, discarded, recycled, and vacuumed to this extent. So much for spring cleaning - I am far more productive when the lure of warm weather is not an issue.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Rally for Public Healthcare

On December 4, around 500 people rallied at the Alberta Legislature to show their support for public healthcare. Speeches were presented from Dr. Raj Sherman and his lawyer, MP Linda Duncan, Friends of Medicare Executive Director David Eggen, and numerous other people who deplored any suggestion that Alberta's healthcare system may become two-tiered. Dr. Sherman's lawyer announced that he will be launching an investigation into the whisper/smear campaign against his client for speaking out against the problems in the healthcare system. Here are photos from the rally as well as a video of Dr. Sherman's speech.

Friday, December 03, 2010

REACH Rendezvous

Earlier this year I became a Founding Member of the REACH Edmonton Council for Safe Communities. REACH is a community-based organization that seeks to improve safety in the city including crime prevention, harm reduction, working with other organizations, and citizen engagement.

On December 1, REACH held its first annual Rendezvous event at the Sutton Place Hotel. After a short time of food and socializing, several speakers talked about the importance of REACH and its mission, including Mayor Mandel and Fred Rayner, the chair of the board. Several youths performed original hop hop compositions and the keynote speaker was Mark Anielski, who spoke about the Economy of Happiness. In a nutshell - higher income does not always correlate with higher levels of happiness.

The event was well-attended (I am guessing about 100-150 people) and consisted of members, non-members, and people from various community organizations. I would encourage anyone interested in issues of community safety to join REACH and stay connected with its opportunities and findings over the next while. REACH has not been around long but it is growing.

Here are some photos from the evening.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

George Galloway in Edmonton

After a ban on him entering Canada in 2009, British Parliamentarian George Galloway recently finished a cross-country tour. He was in Edmonton on November 25 to deliver a talk entitled "Free Palestine, Free Afghanistan, Free Speech." The lecture theatre was packed with over 600 people eager to hear his message of peace as well as an elaboration of what went down last year when he was accused of being a terrorist because he provided aid for the Palestinian people directly to Hamas, the elected government in power in Palestine.

Galloway made it very clear that anti-Semitism is evil and that the Holocaust is one of the worst atrocities in history. He also emphasized that he does not support Hamas, but believes that when you are working for peace and providing aid, you have to work directly with the government in power. He is currently suing the Canadian government for defamation.

Rather than me go on about what Galloway said, you can view the videos from the event:

Introduction (Professor Yasmeen Abu-Laban)

Music (Paula Kirman & Maria Dunn)

George Galloway: Speech

George Galloway: Q&A

As well, here are some photos.

I am a member of the Edmonton Coalition Against War & Racism (ECAWAR), one of the local organizers of the event, as well as Independent Jewish Voices, one of the national organizers. In what has been the biggest audience of my musical career thus far, I was honoured to be asked to sing a song (along with the incredible Maria Dunn) to get the evening started.

In addition, this event had a personal connection for me for other reasons. An online friend of mine in England used to write to Mr. Galloway and rave about me, even sending him some of my music. He mentioned me on his radio show twice because of her - once in response to him asking the audience to send in names of famous Canadians, and the other time as part of a list of my friend's top five women. She also put together a mashup of one of my songs with one of his speeches.

As a result, when I approached Mr. Galloway after his talk, he already knew who I was - amazing, because the events described above happened around three years ago or so. And, he must meet a lot of people. So I felt very complimented.

Finally, when Mr. Galloway was banned from Canada last year, I felt so moved, that I recorded this video blog about the situation - and took a load of abuse, which led me to film a follow-up. I am so privileged to have had the opportunity not only to hear him speak, but to take part in the event.

Boyle McCauley News: Dec.-Jan. 2010/2011

The December-January 2010/2011 issue of Boyle McCauley News is now online. This is our annual "Holidays" issue. Here is a look at what's inside:

* Church Street Awarded Plaque
* Twenty Years of Artspace Housing Co-op
* Christmas Cooking
* Grand Manor: Five Years of Support
* Homefest: About Music AND a Message
* Chanukah: Let There Be Light
* An “Enlightening” Holiday Gift!
* Cop’s Corner: ‘Tis the Season for Crime Prevention Tips
* Around the Rink
* McCauley Revitalization Update
* Letters To The Editor
* Community League Updates

Download the entire issue as a PDF here.