Growing up in rural northern Alberta, equity wasn’t high on my radar and there wasn’t a lot of diversity. I knew that kids in my school were not likely to come out and were more likely to hide their sexual expression until they moved away. The one student who was half-black was nicknamed the ‘n’ word in what appeared to me to be a loving way – at least he didn’t seem to mind. Whenever the hockey team from the reserve came to play the local team everyone just expected that there would be fights and extra police around. At the time this just seemed to be the way things were. If you don’t fit in you just move away from the pond to a bigger lake as soon as possible, which is exactly what I did.
After doing some traveling and living in a few different cities I ended up in Toronto. In this big city there seemed to be so much anonymity, you could get away with anything if you had enough confidence. It didn’t seem to matter what race, gender or sexual orientation you were, people could find their place. After living in the city for a while though I saw the same issues as everywhere else and in some ways even worse, women getting groped on the bus, well-meaning warnings to stay away from certain unsavory neighbourhoods, people sleeping on the streets. These were things that just didn’t seem to happen in my small country town.
After hanging around the city a bit, I finally hit the books, sick of being a watcher and needing to know how we can fix things. I dove into Equity Studies. School was great at giving me all kinds of knowledge about the what, why and how things were happening, things my privileged identity had often hid from me. The legacy of slavery in Canada, the Chinese head tax, the imprisonment of the poor, the police raids on gay clubs…everything made sense and everything was interconnected. I could now see how that student who stayed in the closet throughout high school suffered and in going to a big city, still dealt with negative attention and comments. I could see how the lack of knowledge about treaties led to the perception of Aboriginal people getting lots of handouts and how Canada’s failure to uphold the treaties has led to increased poverty for Aboriginal populations. It all seemed connected and important, I could never settle on just one issue to work on. And I was still left wondering what I could do with this knowledge and this need to make a difference.
Through a chance encounter at an event I ran into Roz Espin, she tells about the organization she works for called Harmony Movement, “I’ve never heard of you before” I say, “but the work sounds amazing!” Following the event, I rushed home and immediately looked them up. I messaged Roz knowing immediately that I had to be a part of this place! A place that does it all, that recognizes the interconnectedness of all these issues that I can’t separate in my own head, that is working with youth to engage them to make the change, that has a vision and mission for a better more inclusive place where everyone can succeed and we can all be in Harmony, a place where diversity leads to strength instead of division. I found my place, the answer to everything I was searching for, I found Harmony Movement.
Now as our time here comes to an end, I am so grateful for the learning it has provided me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by so many individuals of different backgrounds and knowledge. Harmony Movement has afforded me the ability to be a part of the change I want to see in the world. It has been inspiring to see how far so many youth have come in accepting differences and taking action to create more inclusive schools. Though there is still so much more to be done, we have partnered and collaborated with so many individuals working tirelessly to change our schools, societies and create opportunities for youth voice to be amplified. Most of all my colleagues here have shown me how to have courageous and difficult conversations with grace and openness.
Though it is with sadness we shut down operations, the legacy of Harmony Movement continues through each and everyone one of us who has been a part of this organization: our youth, educators, our staff and board, interns and volunteers and so many more. Harmony Movement is an awareness, a commitment and a passion for social change. May it’s legacy continue to inspire and transform.
Janelle Yanishewski has worked at Harmony Movement for the past five years in a variety of administrative, communicative and project management roles. Over the past year she coordinated 13 conferences all across Canada which took her to places like Yellowknife, Moncton, Edmonton and Montreal repping Harmony Movement.