OWN IT 2018

A SENSE OF BELONGING

photo of wood inside a DTK establishment  

During recent public consultations on the future of Downtown Kitchener (Shape DTK 2020 strategy) the community told us loud and clear that they want their downtown to be a truly open, diverse, welcoming place. A place where everyone feels that they belong. A place where we take care of each other.  

 

With this as one of our defining principles, we want to initiate a series of conversations to ask ourselves a core question - how do we, as a DTK community, truly become caring and inclusive?  As a starting point, we wanted to understand the experiences of people of colour in Downtown Kitchener especially considering DTK has historically been planned and programmed predominantly by white (often male) community leaders. 

 

So we hosted an intimate lunch with these five activators in our community. For Zainab, Downtown Kitchener is familiar and full of fond memories from her time at Cameron Heights. Janice has been rooted in DTK since she first began performing here and she's devoted the last 10 years of her life to building up the local art scene. Amy has had a different experience - her past includes accessing the social services that the core offers and remembers a time that Downtown Kitchener was quite literally her home. Robin and Laura Mae are recent arrivals to Kitchener and were drawn here for work and studies at both of our Region's Universities. Despite different backgrounds and life experiences, they hold something in common. They are people of colour in a predominantly white community.

 

As we went around the table, many different issues (large and small) are shared. For Zainab and Laura Mae, they know first hand that new thinking can start with a new generation of leaders. More support for young people who are in the process of finding their voice, particularly those who represent visible minorities, is paramount.  People need opportunities to experiment, gather and share, and to take on leadership roles. As Laura Mae puts it, "Downtown can be a place where the art can start."

 

Amy and Robin highlighted the need for welcoming public spaces and programming. The ideal: spaces where residents can meet, friendships can form, and a welcoming sense of neighbourhood can be cultivated.  In many cultures, these spaces are the breeding ground of a strong community.  As Zainab pointed out, while she loves DTK, there is less to do for some of her family members.

 

While DTK has been experimenting with activating laneways and parkettes throughout the week, the group believes these free, inclusive spaces need to be welcoming in the evenings and weekends.  We need to foster a culture where students, families and residents from all over the city, regardless of their background, feel that they have a place where they can be engaged.

 

The group also agrees we all need to do better at supporting the arts.  Not for the sake of entertainment, but because art, music, poetry and theatre are incredibly powerful tools to breaking down invisible barriers and nurturing a sense of collective belonging. Spreading the word of everything going on in Downtown Kitchener, through a spirit of "ALL ARE WELCOME" would be a simple place to start.  Whether it's a cultural event, niche event or LGBTQ event we need to encourage residents to engage in festivals they might not normally attend. As Janice points out, as individuals we must move beyond attending vigils to show that we genuinely support each other.

 

Commonalities emerged at the table, too. Everyone expressed praise for the KPL and KWAG.  These two institutions are leading the way with relevant, diverse and inclusive programming. Artists and thought-leaders of many different backgrounds, interests and ages are being featured in their 2017-2018 seasons.

 

As community leaders, we must continue asking tough questions and listen whole-heartedly to the answers. We need to make more connections within the community so that all voices and viewpoints are heard.  But more importantly, if we want meaningful, lasting change, we need to commit to cultivating leaders of all backgrounds.  

 

Clearly, we all have much work to do. But let us remind everyone of one thing...

 

The power of Downtown Kitchener is its people. It's made up of all of us. A welcoming, caring, open DTK is everyone's responsibility.  Let's keep having the difficult conversations, and asking tough questions. Let's not stop until we've created a place we all want to belong to.

  

Many thanks to Amy, Janice, Laura Mae, Robin and Zainab for taking the time to share their experiences and ideas with us.

 

Does this resonate with you? Want to be part of the dialogue or tell us what you're working on? We'd love to hear from you. Contact Hilary at Hilary.Abel@kitchener.ca

 

@DTKitchener

 

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Amy Smoke

Amy Smoke 

Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan, from the Six Nations of the Grand River & recent UW graduate

 

 

Janice Jo Lee

Janice Jo Lee 

Korean-Canadian, musician, poet and theatre artist 

 

 

Dr. Laura Mae Lindo

Dr. Laura Mae Lindo 

Director of Diversity and Equity at WLU

 

 

Robin Mazumder

Robin Mazumder 

Cognitive neuroscience PhD student at UW

 

 

Zainab Mahdi

Zainab Mahdi 

Health Studies student at UW & spoken word poet