A few weeks ago, I received a message from a staff member of my former school. She’s a local; I’ve lived in the Columbia Valley for more than twenty years now, but I’ll never be a local. Only my youngest daughter, who was born there, is a local. The rest of us will always be imports. The valley imported a few Danyluks, and this member of my staff is close with other members of my family. She wrote to let me know that another of our ‘imports’ had landed in Vancouver, and she wanted to pass along my contact information to him.
This other family member calls me uncle, although technically I am not. There is terminology that qualifies where each of us sits in the family tree, but I’m good with uncle. He isn’t much older than my children, and I still think of him as a kid. I first met him when he was about three years old. He had the most beautiful set of round cheeks; you just wanted to pinch them. And he had the biggest brown eyes, encircled by lashes the length of my pinky. Growing up, he was a terrific kid, and he would have attended the high school at which I worked. However, before he hit grade eight, his family pulled up stakes and moved. We would see him from time to time at family gatherings, but it’s been many years since any such gathering.
Happy to learn he was now living only minutes away from me, I agreed to share my contact information. In pretty short order, we connected and planned to meet for a coffee and a walk. Although he is much taller, and his hair is a new colour, there was no mistaking his smile which goes all the way to his eyes. It was great to see him and catch up. I had heard, on the family grapevine, that his mother had been ill. Well into our visit, when I asked how she was doing, he apologized because he wasn’t able to share any information with me – he didn’t know how his mom was doing. He explained that it had been seven months since he had spoken with his family. He said it without any drama or gravity, stating it plainly, as a matter of fact. And then he said, “Today is good, the sun is shining, and let’s talk about everything else.” So, of course, we did.
His family is just his mom, his dad, and himself, and they had always been a tight and happy unit. Despite this, the family today is broken: the parents do not speak with their only child. The offense he committed is irrelevant. Suffice it to say that ‘choice’ played no part in this development, other than the choice made by a mom and a dad to cut ties with their son.
I am trying desperately not to cast judgement, but I’m struggling. I cannot conceive what it must take, what could so affect my heart, my mind, and my soul that I could detach so completely.
I’m not saying it is easy for the parents; it may very well be torturous, but they’re doing it. They are able and willing to move on in life as if they do not have a son. What has torn a branch of my family apart is not racially motivated, and it is not racism. It is discrimination and intolerance, accompanied by justifications and rationalizations, and it plumbs similar depths of dark human behaviour. That the human mind can do this is remarkable, in a way, illustrating how deeply we can see ‘other’ and how deeply we can reject even those closest to us. If we are capable of doing this to our own children, we should be less puzzled by how we can reject, condemn, and attack complete strangers.
In the last week, a security camera video clip joined the enormous and growing media library of violent prejudice and injustice. The video captures a 65-year-old woman being kicked to the ground. Her assailant then ‘stomped’ her head multiple times. The camera which caught this assault was fixed inside the lobby of an apartment. This same camera also captured a number of witnesses standing in the lobby, one of whom moves toward the exit door. When I first watched this clip, I assumed he was going to step outside to help. He did not. He stepped forward to close the door, effectively shuttering his responsibility.
The assault is difficult to watch, and it shocked me. The witness closing the door stunned me.
Perhaps such images caught on cameras around the world should no longer surprise, when we know personal convictions can destroy the bond between a parent and a child; but there is a hope in the fact that images like this still shock, stun, and pain some witnesses. This reveals that a humanity remains. The challenge is to take these feelings, provoked by appalling events, and transform them into effective action. This is my goal.
The BC Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association is the voice of school leaders in BC, and we must contribute to the conversations of Anti-Racism at a provincial level. This month, I have invited leading BCPVPA members in the field of Anti-Racism education to join me in a working group. What can the Association do to build the capacity of BCPVPA members for Anti-Racism education and action in schools? The working group will focus its energies on this question, and put forward recommendation to the BCPVPA Board of Directors for action to reach greater capacity and meaningful impact.
I am grateful to our colleagues who have agreed to join me in this work, for I am early in my journey on this path. And it will serve me well to remember my young relative. His fractured family will continue to remind me of the weight of this work. The work goes well beyond debate and making a case for change; the work seeks to change and to correct a way of being, and of thinking. The work of our school leaders and the young citizens in their charge is to disrupt and dismantle the structures of this society that are not aligned with diversity, equity and inclusion. It may be the most difficult and the most important work of public education; and, as leaders, it’s what we signed up for.