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Motion of Colour: Leading the youth against racism in Kamloops

Posted on March 18, 2021

Three laptops, two cups, and a couch. Mary Falade and Joy Kwak sit across a table, waving and saying “hi” to a group of students beamed on screen via Zoom. It’s their first book club meeting, and on this Saturday evening, they are going to talk about displacement, belongingness and navigating racism in an unfamiliar world.

Mary and Joy are the founders of Motion of Colour, a youth-centered, student-led group that offers a space to tackle racial equality and social justice in Kamloops. Friends since high school, these two university students are leading youth in anti-racism work in their city of more than 100,000 people.

“When we were thinking about what we would like to see in Kamloops, we came up with the book club idea. We know that, as people of colour, it can be very difficult to live here. It can be somewhat of an isolating experience,” said Mary, whose family is from Nigeria. “Conversations around racism and anti-racism don’t usually come up in Kamloops, especially for the youth.”

Joy, whose family is from South Korea, said the initiative was also prompted by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd in the U.S. and the rise of anti-Asian racism amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “All these kinds of injustices made us really want to act. And we think it’s important for the youth to be in on the conversations.”

Motion of Colour was launched in partnership with Kamloops Immigrant Services (KIS), the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network member in Kamloops. Since the project began this summer, Motion of Colour has held two book club meetings; three documentary screenings; and a panel discussion, “When Pandemics Collide: How racism & COVID-19 affect BIPOC communities,” which had a huge turnout of people sharing their experiences and perspectives on racism.

Graham Specht, KIS Diversity Outreach Coordinator, said meeting the two students happened at the perfect time. It was just after COVID-19 shut things down. The organization had to cancel events and shift its activities online. “We wanted to talk about race, bias, and human rights but how do we go about it amid a pandemic? Out of the blue, Mary and Joy sent an email with their idea and we just went with it.”

For the two youth leaders, KIS, which has been working to address racism in Kamloops for years, offered them the platform and the resources they needed to start a project by and for youth. Both of them had been pushing for more representation in their school curriculum. Their book club is a way to bridge that gap. On the day they held their book club meeting, the students were discussing Leila Aboulela’s Elsewhere Home, a collection of stories about life as an immigrant and navigating the conflicts that come with living in a new world.

“By simply reading a book, people can start focusing on people of colour a little bit more, to kind of remember that we are there, that our stories also exist,” Mary shared.

Their ultimate goal is for Motion of Colour to be present in schools – to get the youth involved and get them in leadership positions to effect change. To do that, Mary wants young people like her to stay encouraged and be persistent in fighting racism. So far they have recruited 7 students who are helping Motion of Colour organize events, promote activities on social media, and conduct outreach work.

“If you have an idea and if you have the passion for it, just get started. A lot of the time we wait for the perfect opportunity or we wait until we’re older so people will take us more seriously. Step outside of the box and say, ‘this is what we need to do and this is how we are doing it,’” Joy added.

Graham agrees, saying that the youth should not wait until they have the right qualifications to do something. His advice to organizations wanting to work with the youth: listen, support, and ensure they are at the decision-making table. “Nothing about us without us — that’s the approach to take. If we are making decisions about how somebody else experiences life, they should be involved.”