Hundreds attend Hamilton women’s leadership summit

This article was originally published in CBC Hamilton, Oct 21. 2012

It’s not everyday you watch as someone stands up at city hall and makes a personal pledge to help women advance as leaders in the community.

“I pledge as a strong black woman to not let labels define who I am and to do what I want to do,” third year McMaster student Inemesit Etokudo told more than 100 people at a Leadership Summit for Women.

Social media enthusiast Kathy Woo may not be as comfortable voicing her pledge but she found a way in 140 characters on Twitter.

And her promise to advance women was equally powerful.

“I didn’t have the courage to pledge out loud but I pledge not to be a one-day feminist & cont to engage w women leadership potential #lsw2012,” Woo tweeted.

Those pledges were part of a day long discussion Saturday about the current state and future of women in leadership.

Co-organized by the YWCA of Hamilton and McMaster University, the annual Leadership Summit for Women brought together men and women, to discuss the challenges to women of moving upward to leadership positions.

This year, the second summit, registration doubled to 200.

There were 11 workshops covering topics on female mentorship, politics and professional development.

Shared space to discuss women’s roles

Knowing that the term “leadership” is a complex one YWCA’s program coordinator, Alicia Ali wanted to include different voices on the table of panelists.

“We’re trying to capture the very city of Hamilton, which is itself very diverse,” she noted.

Mindful of this broad definition of women leadership, Ali and the planning committee enlisted the female movers and shakers from different groups to participate in a panel discussion on the topic.

This included female leaders from transgendered, racialized, athletic, academic and indigenous communities.

The seven panelists engaged in a two-hour long conversation with attendees, questioning and challenging descriptors of feminism. Each shared their own experiences as women rising to positions of authority at male-dominated workforces.

For Etokudo, it was refreshing to see a range of women leaders from different backgrounds on the panel.

“We’re dispersed on where we are,” pointing out the diverse profiles of attendees.

But she noted it didn’t need to be that way.

“It’s just coming together. A stepping stone so women do not feel that they have to always hide.”

Ali couldn’t agree more, asking for women to recognize that they are, fundamentally, “on the same platform.”

Current McMaster Student Union president, Siobhan Stewart thought the summit was a concrete example of how women could unite and support one another, despite their own differences to “work together towards real dialogue.”

Stewart asked that women who do not identify themselves as leaders recognize the power of lived experience.

“Each of you can be leaders. Use your own lived experience to transform the world around you,” she advised.

Furthering the discussion

As one of six who planned the first summit at McMaster in 2011, Mary Koziol felt the need to bring this year’s summit closer to the core of Hamilton.

“We need multiple groups to be involved as opposed to limiting this to an artificial world on campus,” she said.

“We can talk about things, issues. But we don’t see the complexity of issues until we experience them,” said Koziol.

Ali, a member of the original planning group, agreed.

“To not further perpetuate the stereotype that Mac is its own community,” she stated. “It’s also part of the broader community.”

The summit was just the beginning of a wider conversation and agenda to empower women.

“Unless we critique and unpack these concepts, we do not go anywhere with it,” Koziol emphasized.

Ali hopes to keep the conversation going by hosting workshops and forums through partnerships with Hamilton organizations.

“Our job is to make sure the momentum doesn’t die.”

Catch the glimpse of the summit and continue this conversation using hashtag #LSW2012 on Twitter. Check out the CBC Hamilton Facebook page for more photos of the event.

Programs support and instruct immigrants new to Hamilton

This article was originally published in CBC Hamilton, Oct. 30, 2012

It can be tough to adjust and settle down as a newcomer to Canada.

From communicating with immigration officers to getting used to the local transportation system, newcomers have to learn to navigate their new environment quickly.

Muntasir Masum knows how that feels.

When he arrived alone from Bangladesh in 2011 his first challenge was just learning how to get around Hamilton.

“I didn’t know about the bus stops and that I could actually look up bus times. I had real difficulty getting around places,” said Masum.

“Nobody actually tells us. I didn’t know about it for a long time,” he added.

It took him six weeks to understand how HSR works.

Getting used to the local public transit system is only the beginning.

“There are a lot of things a newcomer doesn’t know. These are really trivial issues. But if you can give that information [to newcomers], you can get them integrated,” he said.

Masum also recognizes the biggest challenge – language.

“For [new] people coming here, language is a huge barrier to them to learn the culture. They are afraid and feel unwelcome,” said the 26-year-old, who came to pursue a sociology graduate degree at McMaster.

English wasn’t a major hurdle for Masum – he had studied it from the time he was a boy in Bangladesh. Instead, he wanted to meet and connect with people from outside the university community.

This led him to volunteer as a coach for Volunteer Hamilton’s Cultural-Linguistic program.

The program connects and introduces newcomers to volunteering opportunities in Hamilton through one-on-one coaching — all done in their own language.

“We’ve been good at getting the word out [about volunteering] in English. But we also want to do it in other languages,” said Michael Gustar, manager of agency and volunteer resources at Volunteer Hamilton.

When Masum started in July 2012, the program was still in its early days, with eight coaches.

Now, with 18 coaches and 16 languages to offer, there is greater opportunity for newcomers to be a part of Hamilton through volunteering.

More outreach is underway to spread the word about the program.

Gustar plans to speak to local school boards and representatives at Mohawk College, under their Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC) program.

Because language can also be a connector, Gustar thinks the program would help newcomers gain a better grasp of English.

“To enhance their facility with English, and then enhance their community connection. The whole point is to reduce that fear factor. That’s empowering for newcomers,” explained Gustar.

Fear of a new culture affects well-being

Pat Wright is well aware of the uncertainty felt by immigrants.

“Coming to a new community can be very intimidating. You tend to be isolated,” said Wright, a manager at the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI).

“Immigration itself is a shock. You find it very hard to settle, to be effective and prosperous. If you’re unhappy, you may become depressed.”

The centre planned and implemented a two-year mental health program for newcomers, Facilitating Mental Health and Addictions Access and Inclusion. The HCCI initiative informs newcomers of support services in Hamilton.

To do so, HCCI enlists “cultural interpreters,” non-Anglophone community leaders in Hamilton. With online and in-class training on mental health, HCCI prepares its 11 interpreters to team up with health care service providers, and translate health care information to newcomers in 13 languages.

The goal isn’t to offer clinical advice, but to facilitate dialogue between health care experts and newcomers facing mental health issues.

“The word ‘depression’ is not in their language,” explained Wright.

“That’s why we need to have that cultural piece. They need to understand the cultural background and how people talk of these issues before we can provide services for them.”

More support services for newcomers needed

While both programs are noteworthy initiatives to assist newcomers, Masum thinks there is a need for more support services catering to both international students and new immigrants.

“Landed immigrants have different needs and responsibilities. You will have to support them in different ways,” he pointed out, acknowledging the diverse needs of newcomers.

It was a trial and error period for Masum during the first few months upon arriving. But he learned through experience and exposure.

Masum discovered that Hamilton has a lot going for it through volunteering.

“I had negative views about Hamilton before coming here, like it’s not livable,” he admitted.

“These notions changed when I got to meet people from Hamilton,” said Masum.

To learn more about the Cultural-Linguistic program or to register, contact Volunteer Hamilton at 905-523-4444 or email Barbara Klimstra at

Hamiltonians remember and celebrate queer history month

This article was originally published in CBC Hamilton, Oct. 29, 2012

Mike Wharton has been struggling to come to terms with his sexuality almost his entire life.

“I tried for 41 years not to be gay,” said the 49-year old Oakville resident. He married twice and had two kids.

He was afraid of “coming out” — to first accept who he was sexually, and then telling family and friends.

“The fear of rejection is so deeply engrained in your head. It literally drives you crazy,” he asaid.

At the Movers and Shakers event held Saturday afternoon at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, Wharton wasn’t alone. The event celebrated the  LGBTT2SIQQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two-spirited, Intersex, Queer and Questioning) history month.

Hosted by The Well, LGBTQ community wellness centre of Hamilton and McMaster University, the event brought together 40 attendees, including experts and local youth. Together, they discussed progress and challenges faced by queer communities throughout history.

That was part of Robert Windrum’s job. For seven years he has been documenting community history. He is the president of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA).

“Who writes history, collects history, and where does it come from?” questioned Windrum, in his keynote address. “If we don’t do it, who will?” he said.

Although the CLGA has been working to retrieve and preserve materials about LGBTQ people for almost 40 years, Windrum noted a gap in their efforts. The archival materials are mainly documentations of white middle class gay experiences in Canada.

But for queer black woman Ruth Cameron, the evidence of that history says a lot. “The fact that we’re present in our history, presents an alternative view to the overall community,” she said.

Four people were honoured at the Pride Awards Ceremony, for the help given to queer communities in Hamilton.

The event also included original poetry recitations by young Hamiltonians. McMaster student Alyson Lamanes shared her poem. It was a letter to her 16-year-old self.

“You don’t really realize how far you have come, until you write out what happened in your past. How you have become different, more vibrant, and stable,” she reflected, in her introduction of her poem.

It was certainly the case for Wharton, when he decided to go back to the classroom at Sheridan College in 2010. He enrolled in a social services program and is determined to use his experience as a self-identified gay man to help young people come to terms with their own sexualities.

“I had to be me. I’m so glad I did,” he said.

Hamilton now home to six-foot bronze statue of Gandhi

This article was originally published in CBC Hamilton, Sept. 29, 2012

Gandhi came to Hamilton in spirit Saturday afternoon.

He also came in 450 kilograms of bronze.

That was the message shouted by Rama Singh, the chair of the Gandhi Peace Festival in Hamilton as he unveiled a six-foot bronze statue of the iconic activist.

Saturday marks the 20th annual Gandhi Peace Festival in Hamilton.

Singh, a McMaster biology professor, first put together an event with the India-Canada Society at City Hall to commemorate Gandhi’s 125th birth anniversary in 1993.

But Singh saw a greater opportunity for peace-building.

“That really made me think — there’s room for a constructive event, bringing all people together for peace,” said Singh.

From there, the idea of organizing an annual peace festival came to life.

“It’s an appeal to the Canadian conscience,” Singh said. “To learn that constructive peace-building is non-glamorous and difficult.”

The Gandhi Peace Festival brings together a diverse group of organizations: the India-Canada Society, the City of Hamilton and McMaster’s Centre for Peace Studies.

While the festival is meant to honour Gandhi and his approach to non-violence, its larger purpose is a community-wide approach to engage in social justice issues, including poverty and diversity.

Event co-organizer Sumbul Syed likes to think of the festival as a hub that connects people to social service organizations.

In fact, no one is too young to be a part of this dialogue for peace. This year’s Peace Festival had 25 student volunteers from three Hamilton high schools doing their part to promote the event.

McMaster students in the first year peace studies course will also attend the festival as part of their course assessment.

“It’s almost like planting a seed for peace,” said Syed. She views it as an opportunity for Mac students to see how theories of peace are applicable in the real world.

The festival featured South African consul general Tselane Mokuena and Mayor Bob Bratina, who unveiled the statue alongside councillor Brian McHattie.

Local organizations like the YWCA, the City’s Centre for Peace, and the Hindu Samaj temple were also onhand.

But peace-building efforts will not simply stop once the festival finishes, Syed says.

Conversations about peace will continue with a peace conference in December and a Gandhi debate amongst McMaster students, she added.

For a gallery of photos from the event, head over to the CBC Hamilton Facebook page, here.

Smoothie bar to host dairy-free Hamilton Fringe show

This article was originally published in CBC Hamilton, Sept. 24, 2012

Promoting healthy eating and the benefits of a raw food diet have always been a priority to Danielle Height, co-owner of Green Smoothie Bar on James Street North.

But she felt that the public needs to be informed and concerned about their health and well-being.

“I think everyone has health problems, but don’t know about it,” said Height. She cites a statistic that says 30 to 50 million Americans suffering from lactose intolerance.

When she saw Dairy-Free Love, a one-woman comedy at the 2012 Hamilton Fringe, she was struck by the idea of hosting public events to promote healthy eating.

Height and co-owner, Joe Accardi, decided to host the show on Thursday, Sept. 27 at the lower level of Green Smoothie Bar. It is part of the franchise’s larger plan to encourage Hamiltonians to live a healthy lifestyle.

“It seems like a natural fit. We have a space, she has a show,” said Height, referring to the decision to collaborate. It will be the first time where Green Smoothie Bar use the space to host community events focused on health and nutrition.

A live performance mixed with a cooking demonstration, Dairy-Free Love debuted in Hamilton at the 2012 Fringe. The play follows hostess, Dawn, as she keeps up with her 1950s housewife appearance and values. Promising to be a sweet treat, Dawn will prepare three dairy and gluten-free desserts live onstage for her cooking show, Dawn’s Delights.

Playwright and actress, Victoria Murdoch, was happy to combine her two interests in the show: her love for performing and cooking food.

“I like to think people don’t feel as if they re ‘missing out’ when they eat my food,” wrote Murdoch in an email. She is no stranger to dairy and gluten-free cooking.

Height and Murdoch talked about food, exchanging ideas and recipes.

“She’s promoting a raw lifestyle. It’s what we believe in,” said Height, describing the partnership between them as a “no-brainer.”

Performing at a business space, instead of a theatre, Dairy-Free Love is going beyond the typical theatre group, branching out to the community and spreading the word about healthy eating.

“Theatre can sometimes have an air of being exclusive, as if it’s a club. I want to open the doors, and let everyone into that ‘club’,” emphasized Murdoch.

Height would agree, “It’s really about informing people.”

Dairy-Free Love goes live on Sept. 27, 8pm at Green Smoothie Bar, 236 James Street North. Tickets are at $10/person sold at the door, cash only. Learn more about the show on its website. Foodies could try out the recipes from the show, available at Murdoch’s recipe blog.